Plot: What’s it about?
Before there was the long range of roles for the illustrious career of Richard Widmark, he started on film with a bang as one of the most memorable villains of film noir playing a laughing killer in the middle of a web of a small time crook/father. When it comes to being caught in a tight corner and being caught between a rock and a hard place, one wrong move in both places can be the eventual Kiss of Death.
Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) can’t seem to find a job to support his wife and kids. So when none of the offers come Nick’s way, he finds a way to pull off a fast jewel job in the Empire State Building. Things look swell until one of the workers hit the alarm with Nick looking for the quick exit. With the one bullet in his leg, Bianco is looking at time back behind bars, but one assistant DA (Brian Donleavy) believes otherwise that he is not the criminal some make him out to be so he tries to make a deal but Nick won’t give in until one complication away from home triggers him off to make a deal and leads into the world of Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) a sadistic killer who preys on snitches.
It starts and ends with narration (that is puzzling to be there) but in the middle is a tale that simply executes with characterization in less than twenty minutes and a few subtle twists along the way making for a more satisfying ride than it’s updating a few years ago with David Caruso and Nicolas Cage.
Victor Mature plays Bianco with the kind of cool and calculation and desperation with everything that happens to him before during and after his time in jail and a few loopholes that might lead him back to the place he tried to avoid.
Widmark (nominated for an Oscar for his role as Udo) gives off one characterization in only a few minutes of a guy who finds brutality fun and has a nasty laugh to go along with it. The rest of the cast does fine as well (look closely and you’ll spot Karl Malden as one of the people in the room when Bianco gets questioned)
In true black and white and the story leading to the dark paths along with a memorable ending in the heart and dark corners of New York City, Kiss of Death is a solid film noir that does a lot with a short running time and is hookable from start to finish with each moment being key.
Video: How does it look?
Kiss of Death is given its first spin on DVD in its full frame transfer with the results being slightly disappointing. There are some shakes and lines, understandably from the age of the print, but knowing the studio’s reputation of keeping up with very good prints no matter how old or young the film is, there were more problems than there were solutions. There are some moments of clarity and that is for half of the picture but the other half also cuts off certain words even in a full frame transfer both during the opening credits at the top of the screen and in one scene where Bianco is reading the paper. Whether it was intended to be this way or not, this viewer doesn’t know but it’s a decent print but far from great.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Stereo 2.0 track fares slightly better but retains the muteness from the age of the soundtrack of the time. The dialogue comes out clear with little activity on the outer channels for effects and some score, but the majority of the audible activity coming from the center channels. I didn’t hear any scratches, pops, or jumps in the track so without those, this is a better effort than the results of the print. This disc also has a English and Spanish Mono track along with English and Spanish subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Being part of the Fox Film Noir series, Kiss of Death is given the advantage of the classic poster cover and gets some extra treatment with a commentary track from film noir historians James Ursini and Alain Silver and they give an informative, entertaining and talky track going through their take and descriptions of the film along with a few notables here and there. A worthy listen both interesting and educational.
Along with that track there is a still gallery with a few posters and some pictures incorporated within those posters with the DVD concluding with the film’s theatrical trailer and trailers for other Fox Noir titles including The Street With No Name, Call Northside 777, House of Bamboo (anamorphic), Panic In The Streets and Laura.
Kiss of Death is a well executed film noir that is carried out with the greatest of ease, despite print problems throughout the piece. It captures it’s evil more giddy than Tommy Udo’s laugh and it makes for a decent addition to any film noir collection.