Kiss of Death (1947)

Kiss of Death (1947)

“You know what I do to squealers? I let ’em have it in the belly, so they can roll it over for a long time, thinkin’ it over.”

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

In order to get parole and spend time with his new wife (Coleen Gray) and children, a thief (Victor Mature) decides to rat on his partners, risking the wrath of a psychopathic con named Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark).


  • Brian Donlevy Films
  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • Coleen Gray Films
  • Ex-Cons
  • Karl Malden Films
  • Mildred Dunnock Films
  • Revenge
  • Richard Widmark Films
  • Thieves and Gangsters
  • Victor Mature Films

Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death is a curious omission from Peary’s book, given that it contains one of the most infamous scenes in all of noir history: Richard Widmark’s psychotic “Tommy Udo” gleefully shoving wheelchair-bound Mildred Dunnock down a staircase, in order to teach her “squealing” son a lesson.

Indeed, Kiss of Death brought immediate fame to Widmark, and it’s easy to see why: while many note that Mature gives one of the best performances of his career here, his character:

— a conflicted con hoping for a second chance — is literally dwarfed by Udo, who dominates each scene he’s in.

As played by Widmark, giggling Udo emerges as one of the quintessential “villains” of cinema; critic James Agee (cited in the All Movie Guide OVerview) wrote, “You feel that murder is the kindest thing he’s capable of.” The film itself (co-written by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer) is competent noir, with several suspenseful sequences (particularly the final showdown between Mature and Widmark) and atmospheric location cinematography in New York City — but it’s Widmark who ultimately elevates it to “must see” status.

Note: Blink and you’ll miss Karl Malden in a tiny role as a police sergeant grilling Mature.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Richard Widmark in a career-making turn as Tommy Udo
  • Victor Mature as Tony Bianco
  • Coleen Gray as Mature’s love interest
  • Effective use of New York locales
  • Norbert Brodine’s noir-ish cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Richard Widmark’s truly noteworthy, Oscar-nominated performance.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


One thought on “Kiss of Death (1947)

  1. Must-see (a missing title indeed!), not only for Widmark’s performance but as a good show. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Christmas Eve in New York: a happy time for some people – the lucky ones.”

    ‘Kiss of Death’ (1947): My decision to rewatch this after way too many years was totally random. I mainly chose it because I simply couldn’t remember anything about the plot. (I seemed to recall Victor Mature playing a cop: wrong.)

    So imagine my surprise when the first scene’s narration (by Coleen Gray) began all Christmas-y. (Gray, who is good here, would follow-up with an even better role in ‘Nightmare Alley’.) But the first few minutes is about as yuletide as it gets; the holiday season soon evaporates.

    Mature – a crook – is wounded in a jewelry heist and is the only one of the four involved in the crime who gets bounced off to jail. The rest of the film will involve Mature’s chance at freedom: if he reveals the identities of the other three men. ~ and if he’s able to hand over a sideline character (Richard Widmark, making his film debut in the most psychotic manner possible: that trademark laugh!).

    One of the writers was Ben Hecht – among the busiest and highest paid of screenwriters – whose work has often felt rather heavy-handed (and at times unnatural) to me. But, in this case, working with another top talent (Charles Lederer: ‘Ride the Pink Horse’, ‘The Thing from Another World’), what’s typical of Hecht seems to disappear. This is a terse script that sounds not only natural but often as though the characters were speaking off-the-cuff.

    In one of my favorite scenes, Gray (playing a woman who knew Mature’s wife) goes to visit Mature in prison for the first time. The poignancy is palpable.

    Thanks to director Henry Hathaway (‘Call Northside 777’, ‘Niagara’) and the camerawork by Norbert Brodine that becomes increasingly noir, ‘KOD’ builds to a tension (esp. in its last half-hour) that is just about excruciating.

    ‘KOD’ might have more accurately been titled ‘Judas Kiss’ in order to avoid the hint of romantic passion. The passion here is for settling a score. Getting to the settlement makes for a knockout ride.

    Co-starring Brian Donlevy and Karl Malden.

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