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Sunday, May 9, 2010

KISS OF DEATH (1947)

Hollywood put out heaps of filmes noir in the post-war years, but 20th/Fox was the studio that pushed them off the back-lots & onto the (back)streets of America, usually with Elia Kazan, Jules Dassin or Henry Hathaway helming. The format proved so popular, these pioneering crime dramas can now look a bit old-hat. But not this one. While newbie helmers Kazan & Dassin used the genre as a vehicle to go on location, Hathaway treated real locations as if they were studio sets, sturdy scaffolding for his signature set pieces of violence & suspense. He helmed this one in & around NYC (except for the finale*) and it’s mostly remembered for Richard Widmark’s wild debut as a psychopathic killer. (The old lady, the wheelchair, the staircase, the giggle; it’s that one.) But the whole film holds up nicely with a tight script from the great Ben Hecht and superb lensing from longtime ace Herbert Nordine who’d been at it since the ‘teens. Look sharp for a scene where Widmark’s malevolence all but glows thru a curtain slit. Victor Mature is perfectly cast as a hulking, yet oddly delicate, jewel thief who winds up working as an informer for Brian Donlevy’s Asst. D.A. Naturally, the film has atmosphere to spare, and not just from the city. The violence & suspense still hold a nasty kick.

*Some stock footage was a bit out of date, too. A movie marque shows Jeanette MacDonald in THE LOVE PARADE from 1929!

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