“That mirror showed me the whole lie of my existence. I realized what a pitiful fool I was — she didn’t love me at all!”
While defending a man (Paul Lukas) who has just killed his adulterous wife (Gloria Stuart), a lawyer (Frank Morgan) begins to suspect his own wife (Nancy Carroll) of infidelity.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Courtroom Drama
- James Whale Films
- Paul Lukas Films
- Play Adaptations
While director James Whale is primarily known for the stylish horror movies (Bride of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House) he made for Universal Studios in the early ’30s, this film is generally considered to be one of his finest non-horror entries. The story starts out rather slowly, but picks up speed and interest once Morgan comes on the scene. The parallels between Morgan’s marriage and that of his defendant (an annoyingly overwrought Paul Lukas) are too convenient, but make for a nifty psychological thriller, as we wonder just how far Morgan’s jealousy will take him.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Frank Morgan as the jealous lawyer
- Nancy Carroll as Morgan’s wife
- Karl Freund’s cinematography
- William Anthony McGuire’s taut script
Yes, simply to see one of James Whale’s non-horror films. But I also highly recommend Whale’s earlier Waterloo Bridge (1931), which isn’t listed in Peary’s book.
One thought on “Kiss Before the Mirror, The (1933)”
First viewing. A must – mainly as part of a directorial career that should have been larger.
Thankfully, because of ‘Gods and Monsters’, we know much more about James Whale than we would ever have known. (The film is actually an improvement on the book on which it was based: ‘Father of Frankenstein’.) Still, the average ff may not know of Whale’s work beyond ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Bride of Frankenstein’. While said ff may also know of ‘The Invisible Man’, or even ‘The Old Dark House’, it may come as a surprise that Whale also directed ‘Show Boat’ (1936 version), ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ (1939) and ‘Kiss Before the Mirror’.
‘Kiss…’ is something of a curio but, in just a little over an hour, Whale manages to pack in quite a bit of his signature style. There’s often a sense of the tongue-in-cheek with Whale, even in what is – like this – essentially a drama. It should be noted that ‘Kiss…’ comes off as misogynistic (the idea that all men should be suspicious of their wives – as opposed to the other way around; the documentation of how obsessive women are when preparing themselves before a mirror – an indication of being up to no good). But Whale didn’t write the piece and he doesn’t appear to be personally judging women. On the other hand, Whale was an unrepentant gay man and here, as usual, he seeks opportunities to express that: note that Morgan’s legal sidekick could perhaps be seen as a lesbian; note also the court sketch artist.
As noted, we do wonder how far Morgan’s jealousy will take him. (This is a much less mannered Morgan performance than his more familiar roles.) And, yes, his procedure as legal counsel is questionable at best. But the central conceit of the film – that Morgan attempts to acquit himself in advance – does, as noted, “make for a nifty psychological thriller”.