Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Kiss of Death starring Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Coleen Gray, and Richard Widmark in his screen debut

Kiss of Death (1947) is a film noir directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, and Coleen Gray. It marked the screen debut of Richard Widmark; he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and a seven-year contract at 20th Century-Fox.

Brian Donlevy, Richard Widmark, and Victor Mature
Mature stars as Nick Bianco, a small-time criminal who robs a jewelry store on Christmas Eve with three other crooks. The robbery seems to go off without a hitch until the injured proprietor manages to set off the alarm. In an attempt to escape, Nick assaults a cop and is sent to Sing Sing Prison for 20 years.

Louis D’Angelo (Donlevy), the Assistant District Attorney tries to persuade Nick to name his partners in crime in exchange for a lighter sentence. At first, Nick refuses, but when his wife commits suicide and his two young daughters are sent to an orphanage, he has a change of heart. But “ratting” on other criminals brings complications of their own that put Nick and his family, which now includes new wife Nettie (Gray), in peril.

Henry Hathaway (1898 – 1985) was an American film director and producer. Hathaway started working in silent films in 1925 as an assistant to established directors like Victor Fleming and Josef von Sternberg. His first solo directorial effort was Heritage of the Desert (1932) starring Randolph Scott. Hathaway, along with Scott, would be known for western movies. Besides Scott, Hathaway directed Gary Cooper in several films, including The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) which earned him his only Best Director Academy Award nomination. In 1940, Hathaway began working at Fox where he directed Tyrone Power in Johnny Apollo and Brigham Young (both 1940), Gene Tierney in China Girl (1942), Don Ameche and Dana Andrews in Wing and a Prayer (1944), and Call Northside 777 (1948) starring James Stewart and Richard Conte. After leaving Fox, he was one of three directors who worked on the western epic How the West Was Won (1962). He directed Steve McQueen in Nevada Smith (1966), directed John Wayne in True Grit (1968) which won Wayne his one and only Best Actor Academy Award.

Victor Mature (1913 – 1999) was an American stage, film, and television actor who became a major movie star during the 1940s under contract to 20th Century-Fox. Before his film career took off, Mature starred in Lady in the Dark (1941) on Broadway opposite Gertrude Lawrence. Some of Mature’s notable films include I Wake Up Screaming (1941) with Betty Grable, The Shanghai Gesture (1941) with Gene Tierney. In 1942, he starred opposite Rita Hayworth in the musical My Gal Sal. Other notable films include Samson and Delilah (1949), and The Robe (1952), the first film released in the Cinemascope widescreen process. Mature was self-deprecating when it came to his acting. He said, “I’m no actor, and I’ve got 64 pictures to prove it.”

Brian Donlvey (1901 – 1972) was an American actor noted for playing tough guys in the movies. He mostly worked as a supporting actor, but sometimes played the lead as in the Preston Sturges classic The Great McGinty (1940). Donlevy worked in the theater but soon found regular work in silent films. He transitioned to sound pictures and starred in “A” and “B” pictures at most of the major studios. He supported the biggest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age including Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, and Bing Crosby.

Victor Mature and Coleen Gray

Coleen Gray (1922 – 2015) was an American actress who was under contract to 20th Century-Fox in the 1940s. She co-starred in the noir classic Nightmare Alley (1947) with Tyrone Power. She also had a role in Red River (1948) with John Wayne. In the 1950s she started working in television, guest-starring in many popular shows of that period.

Kiss of Death trivia
Kiss of Death was written expressly for Mature due to his excellent performance in My Darling Clementine (1946). The actress Patricia Morison played Mature’s wife who is attacked and raped by a gangster who was supposed to be watching her while Nick was in prison. All her scenes were cut from the film and her rape is only hinted at by Nettie’s (Gray) character. Because of this, Widmark’s role was expanded. The famous wheelchair scene had to be filmed twice because the cameraman forgot to load the film. The trade papers of the day announced that Richard Conte was set to play Udo, the role that made Widmark a star. Widmark received his first and only Academy Award nomination for Kiss of Death. Since the film was shot on location, a toilet is visible in Mature’s jail cell. You wouldn’t see another toilet in an American film until Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).

To watch the film, click on the YouTube link below. Be sure to use this link because there are several prints of this film on the channel of inferior quality.

To join us on July 28 at 6:30 p.m. Central Time for discussion on Zoom, click the link below.

Stephen Reginald is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Discussion of "Kiss of Death"
Time: Jul 28, 2020, 06:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting


Meeting ID: 785 2682 3065
Passcode: F8m5H4

Discussion questions
1. Noir or not? Does this fit in with your understanding of film noir?
2. What did you think of Victor Mature’s performance? Was he believable as a small-time criminal? Did the studio make the right choice in casting him?
3. Richard Widmark made an amazing debut in Kiss of Death. Can you see anyone else in this role? In just three years, he would star in Night and the City.
4. Did the movie end the way you thought it would? Was it satisfying to you?

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