Cagney With A Heart Of Ice
Too grubby to label as noir, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was James Cagney's kiss-off to the gangster cycle he helped invent. Somewhat (if not deeply) ashamed of these for a last twenty years, he agreed to killing's last Kiss based on importune of brother Bill, who oversaw their independent producing concern. Money was tight from beginnings at this, thanks to overspend on properties and disaster of The Time Of Your Life in 1948. Raoul Walsh once said the Cagneys lacked story judgment and poor pics were a result. Tomorrow is more like yesterday for rat-a-tat done Warners' old-fashioned way, this a very good thing for Cagney fans who liked him best behind a gun.
There's determination here to out-do White Heat, a high bar for screen violence that JC disdained, but took benefit of a boxoffice spike from. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is the Tijuana Bible of Code-era gangster pics, its nastiness barring release in
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Barbara Payton is very much the ginger in Tomorrow's loaf. She was the 50's blonde ambition, hours clocked on casting couches well in excess of those spent before cameras. Payton also had a pre-Botox startled look, as if expecting any moment to get the hook. Her first meeting with the Cagneys involved language I'll not repeat here. Suffice to say, Barbara is a sweetheart to Hollywood Babylonians, lending real conviction to her KTG moll, who feels most love from the man who's beating her up. Payton's scenes with Cagney are magic for the old pro spotting her points and letting focus go equal to the splattered bombshell.
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The Cagneys did salute a Warner past by throwing support duty to Ward Bond and Barton MacLane as nakedly corrupt police dicks, their pic-long shoving match with Cagney a standout delight of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. So who to direct this almost willful farrago? Bill/Jim chose Gordon Douglas, a veteran, but still ripe, supplier of B's finished on time and within budgets. Goodbye gets on real location for a supermarket hold-up shot among shelves in Glendale, this authenticity unique to units that couldn't, or wouldn't, spring for comparable sets built on studio lots (and what more ideal for filming than an already well-lit market with its high ceiling from which to hang more lighting?).
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A well-received novel by Horace McCoy was KTG's origin (he'd earlier written They Shoot Horses, Don't They?). Jim liked it a lot, but saw same denuded by scriptwriters rushing to a next blood spillage. In fact, Cagney's Ralph Cotter is one of the more complex thugs the actor portrayed. We're not told that the character was college-educated, but dialogue expands his vocabulary to differentiate Cotter from past public enemies (at one point, he refers to himself as "a 20th Century Fagin"). Cagney was passing fifty when he did Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, so we're a little taken aback when a close-up of his rap sheet puts Ralph Cotter's age at thirty-seven.
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What got messy upon release was aforementioned
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Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was profitable on heels and word-of-mouth from White Heat. A negative cost of $821K brought back domestic rentals of $1.3 million, with foreign rentals of $978K, a handy payday for both WB and the Cagneys. Considering its violent content and Jim cast to expectation, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye could hardly miss the mop-up. Ownership of the negative was random from there. Republic/Artisan released a DVD that was nobody's idea of good, likely ported off an earlier released laser disc, but as this one is now owned by Paramount, there's at least chance that Olive has licensed KTG and will be forthcoming with a Blu-Ray release. UCLA did complete a restoration that was featured at their 2011 Festival Of Preservation, so elements are there for a quality transfer.