Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
Released on: February 14th, 2017.
Director: Henry Hathaway
Cast: Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Coleen Gray, Richard Widmark, Karl Malden
Year: 1947 Purchase From Screen Archives
Director Henry Hathaway’s Kiss Of Death is rightly regarded as a classic of American film noir, and now the film receives its long awaited Blu-ray debut courtesy of Twilight Time Releasing. For the unlucky few who haven’t had the chance to see this film, the story opens with a sequence where an off screen narrator tells us about Christmas in New York City, how the haves and the have-nots see the season differently. Enter Nick Bianco (Victor Mature), an ex-con now back to life as a free man and hoping to make a good of things. However, when life hands Nick one raw deal after the next, a year later he and some pals are back to their old tricks. After he plays a part in knocking over a jewelry store – Christmas shopping for his kids – he narrowly escapes only to eventually get nabbed by the cops. In the chaos that ensues during the robbery, Nick winds up with a bullet in his leg and a nice cozy cell in which to celebrate the merriest of holidays. It turns out the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Nick’s dad was shot to death in front of him by cops after he too was trying to escape the scene of the crime.
Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) tells Nick that if he talks, they’ll let him walk. They’re interested in getting the other parties involved with the crime and Nick could very well head home to watch his two girls grow up if he plays his cards right. But Nick’s no rat! Three years later, Nick learns that his wife has just killed herself. With his kids shipped off to an orphanage, he wonders if maybe he should squeal to D’Angelo after all, but before he and D’Angelo can come to an agreement he gets a visit from Nettie (Coleen Gray). Nick and Nettie have a history, one that his late wife wasn’t too keen on, but she cares for him and she agrees to look after his kids while he can get all of this sorted out. Nick and D’Angelo eventually come to an arrangement wherein Nick will have to get close to former cellmate Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark), a maniacal killing machine, to get the evidence that the D.A.’s office needs to convict him for murder. It works, and Nick is once again a free man. He marries Nettie, gets a job and starts living the American dream… until he finds out that the conviction against Udo didn’t stick and that he’s now been sprung from prison and wants revenge.
As much a horror picture as a crime film, this cynical 20th Century Fox production really shines anytime Widmark is on screen. Strong stuff for its time and still able to pack quite a punch today, Widmark’s performance as the giggling psychotic Udo is one for the record books. He plays the part with such gleeful menace and malicious joy that you can’t take your eyes off of him. While Mature’s Bianco is clearly the ‘good guy of the picture – he has a good heart and wants the best for his family – Widmark acts circles around him. And that’s saying something, really, because Mature is also very good here. He’s fairly likeable as the jailbird and even when we know he’s done wrong we do at least want him to find redemption. Supporting efforts from Donlevy and pretty Coleen Grey are admirable and rock solid, but really, it’s so hard to outdo Widmark’s sadistic powerhouse of a performance that you almost feel sorry for everyone else in the movie!
Reasonably quick in pace and fairly stylish in terms of the lighting and cinematography employed, the picture looks quite good. The story is a little bit predictable and a lot of viewers will probably figure out where this one is headed before it gets there, but none of that diminishes the suspense inherent in the situations or the terror inherent in Udo’s actions. Throw in some nice location footage and a strong score and this one earns full marks.
The Twilight Time release of Kiss Of Death is a fine looking disc. The AVC encoded 1.33.1 fullframe picture shows excellent detail and texture with nice depth and texture evident throughout. The image is very clean but has a nice amount of natural looking grain evident, the kind that reminds you this was shot on film. The picture never looks overly processed, there’s no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement, and the picture is free of compression artifacts. The image is also very clean, showing virtually no print damage here to note at all. The transfer is a strong one indeed.
The English language DTS-HD Mono track is also of very good quality. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow and the score has nice depth and range. Hiss and distortion are never an issue and the levels are properly balanced throughout. Optional English subtitles are provided.
The main extras on the disc are two commentary tracks, this first of which is with Twilight Tim’s resident film historians, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. These two always work well together behind the make, offering up lots of insight into the locations, the music used in the film, the quality and variety of performances featured in the picture and quite a bit more. The second track features film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver and it originally appeared on the old Fox DVD release. This is a solid track, a veritable history lesson in how this film was made with a lot of insight into what makes it stand out and why it remains a fan favorite.
Rounding out the extras is the film’s original theatrical trailer and an isolated score option presented in DTS-HD format. Menus and chapter selection are also provided. It’s also worth noting that the disc comes packaged with an insert booklet of liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. As usual, Kirgo’s observations are worth reading and well written. This is an informative piece that serves as a nice primer to the film.
The Final Word:
Kiss Of Death remains a consummate entry in the classic American film noir cannon, a remarkably tense and wonderfully made thriller with some gorgeous shadowy visuals and some superlative performances. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds good and the two commentaries that serve as its main supplemental package are each informative, interesting and worth listening to.
Click on the image below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!