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Monday, October 10, 2016

Check Those Wheelchair Brakes

Wicked Widmark Served Double For Revival Booking

Kiss Of Death (1947) Shoves Sadism Down Stairs

Darryl Zanuck regretted the title he'd given this crime thriller after receipts that barely showed profit. He said Kiss Of Death sounded like a horror movie. First marquee or ad impression could indeed be a kiss of death if they misled patronage. Was KoD a turn-off? How many left this excellent docu-noir alone because they thought content was something else entirely? Again as with successful House On 92nd Street, Call Northside 777, and 13 Rue Madeleine, there was adherence to realism, both in setting and theme. Henry Hathaway took crew and principals to New York and shot at Sing Sing for prison portions. Getting authentic flavor mattered much to patronage lately done with the war, moviegoers having been made more worldly by conflict fought worldwide. The one-sheet promised something stark --- Victor Mature's anguished face against deep black background.

Vic Lightens Up Between Takes

A bigger noise was Richard Widmark in screen debut. His giggling killer upset complacency where screen heavies were concerned. I'm still surprised the Code allowed his pushing an old lady down stairs in a wheelchair. Certainly it was the scene everyone came away talking about. Widmark's character was so maniacal, in fact, as to give Fox headaches for follow-up. He could repeat Tommy Udo to point of saturation that would come quick. Time was needed to make a palatable leading man of him, that mission accomplished within a couple years and lead man casting along conventional lines. Still, people remembered him as Udo, Widmark and that wheelchair as close-associated as Jim Cagney with his grapefruit. RW would even recall his first meeting with John Wayne getting off to a bad start because Wayne identified him so strongly with the killer part. Kiss Of Death comes from Fox's Film Noir Collection in a first-rate DVD transfer.


Blogger Donald Benson said...

Widmark played a maniacal thug -- a bit anachronistically -- in "O. Henry's Full House", a big misfire in my opinion (although the DVD release made up for it with bonus features focused on O. Henry himself. One was "Man About Town", a silent short officially based on O. Henry but discarding everything but the title).

1:45 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I'll disagree just a little with Donald B. I've always loved Widmark in O. HENRY'S FULL HOUSE... as kids, my brother and I ran around nasally imitating Widmark with his character's signature salutation "Hey, Clamhead!" until my our exasperated parents commanded us to clam up!

KISS OF DEATH, one of my favorites, terrific cast (and yet another classic with a 'star-making' appearance of Coleen Gray that did not, again, actually make her a star.} Widmark was so dazzling in his early heavy roles, the studios struggled to keep a little of that nasty edge when he was kicked up into leading man status. Which worked great in border line bad guy stuff like PICK UP ON SOUTH STREET and THE LAW AND JAKE WADE, not so much in the more conventional leads where, in my opinion, he often comes across as just kind of a dick. I find him sort of a drag on a lot of middling 50's entries, although given an exceptional script and good direction his stiff-neck-jerk-as-hero thing can be downright moving (think PANIC IN THE STREETS.)

And speaking of jerks, and getting back to KISS OF DEATH, I've always loved how unapologetic, even self-righteous the people-user cop Brian Donlevy is while doing his job. He's totally cool risking Mature's neck, screwing up the guy's life over and over!

10:07 AM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

I love Widmark in 'Kiss of Death', but Dave K, I refuse to say any cast headed by Victor Mature is terrific. :)

"Clamhead!" I gotta start using that one!

7:13 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

I read that Richard Widmark got off to a bad start with John Wayne because the Duke threw a welcome party for Richard Widmark, when RW joined the Alamo crew, with a cake or banner that read 'Welcome Dick' and the first thing Widmark said was "the name's Richard.".

9:23 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon expresses his ongoing liking for "Kiss Of Death":

"Kiss of Death" has been released in HD in the U.K. and it's worth acquiring for that alone, not to mention a complete (unedited) interview with Richard Widmark at the National Film Theater recorded in 2003, I believe was the date (I'm going on memory, so take this as an estimate!) Widmark is wonderful; straightforward, funny, frank. Opinionated, but not offensively so; far from it. He acknowledges colleagues in acting George Rose and Christopher Lee, who the moderator mentions are in the audience (off-camera, alas.) Widmark can't help laughing, ruefully, at one of his much later films, "To the Devil a Daughter", and you get the feeling that Lee, in the audience, shares his feelings! But, back to Widmark's spectacular and star-making debut in "Kiss of Death", not only is he permanently outstanding, but the often maligned (included by David Thomson, who ought to know a little better, or, ought he?) Victor Mature is at least as good. The excellent Brian Donlevy is also in a key role, as many forget. I believe that Kino is bringing this out in a U.S. version shortly, but I don't know whether or not they'll include the Widmark interview. Yet I recognize that not everyone has nor cares to have an after-market Blu-ray player with a 'cheater' chip installed that enables the player to play back Region B (i.e., U.K. and other Euro countries) encoded discs. I do, and I wish I didn't have to. I didn't "have to", but it is the only way anyone living in our country can see the sometimes superior encodings of even our own U.S. movie classics on British disc, let alone the frequently outstanding 'special features' or 'extras', choose your preferred term.

12:55 PM  

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