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Saturday, November 10, 2012

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 Ohio, censors there awoke to arms by its non-stop mayhem. Give Jim credit ... once committed, there's no one a match for ferocity lent his badman. KTG was also a last round-up for lady killing Jim, what with dangerous charm practiced on co-stars Barbara Payton and Helena Carter. The actor had ducked kiss scenes for much of a career, preferring nuzzles or a peck to the cheek for conveying affection. Here for the first time in a long time was Cagney in full-throttle embrace, and abuse, mode, his smack-around of Payton with a wet towel a JC highlight that would have been excerpted more in years to come but for Tomorrow clips having to be licensed elsewhere than WB.

Jim Carries Towel-Snapping Horseplay To a New Level

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.

Slimy Ralph Lures Nice Girl Helena Carter to Indignation of Rich Dad
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is best taken as dig through dumpsters it is. The courtroom opening and flashbacks therefrom alert us to economy model Kiss drives. The Cagneys had not production money to burn, and why waste it in any event on a thing like this? Jim is introduced among chain-gang membership. He's a little portly to have served long there (unless they're really free with grub), and anyway, plays the portion like larkish rebuke to social conscience of WB's own I Am A Fugitive On A Chain Gang. You know this won't be any semi-doc when boisterous Bill Frawley shows up as cruelest of road bulls, his entrance like that onto a vaudeville stage.

Let Merriment Commence! Bill Frawley as Unintentionally Comic Chain Gang Guard

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?). Douglas lends a same vigor and pace he'd apply to further action-making at Warners, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye likely the show that established him there.

Selling Savagery: WB Offers Violent Images to Exhibs Via National Screen Service

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.

Code Adherence Requires The Newlywed Cotters To Occupy Separate Beds

What got messy upon release was aforementioned Ohio's wholesale banning of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, this based, according to Variety, upon glorification of crime and fact that the pic shows police in a sorry light. A sordid, sadistic presentation of brutality and an extreme presentation of crime with explicit steps in commission, was stated basis for the state's blow-off. To this, Jim's wet towel message of Barbara Payton was icing on a fallen cake. The shut-out stuck for a next four years, it being March 1954 before Ohio venues were able to book Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, lifting of the ban a result of Supreme Court rulings against censorship. Theatres thus played KTG as a "new" release, pushing hard the fact that it was, till then, too hot for them to handle.

Cleveland's Allen Theatre Finally Gets Censor-Liberated Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye in March 1954 and Reaps a $14,000 Opening Week

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.


Blogger Dave K said...

Boy, oh, boy, this takes me back!

My first job out of college was in a tiny TV station in the middle of the Wisconsin North woods. This was the very early seventies, and the staff was really excited over a new movie package they had acquired, STARTIME THEATER (I think that was the name). Keep in mind the station was very much a budget operation, so management crowed about finally getting some big star classic grade features for a late Saturday night slot. The first few weeks the films came in, the editing guy actually set up a regular projector and screen so staff could watch these on their lunch break!

The actual package turned out to be pretty tiny too, 17 features as I recall, almost all either Cagney Productions or United States Picture productions (I think the one orphan was a Lex Barker dog, MISSION IN MOROCCO). Such odds and ends as BLOWING WILD, DISTANT DRUMS and THE ENFORCER certainly had big name stars but even the least discriminating staff member quickly realized these were not the exact films that made Stanwyck, Coop and Bogie famous. Still, there was no outright derision aimed at the movies… except for the Cagnies! In no time, the program director was saying things like "So. What. We have all the crummy movies Jimmy Cagney ever made?"

Naturally I loved all this stuff, and my favorite-favorite was KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE. In equal parts scrappy and crappy, it was miles ahead of Jimmy's more earnest efforts like JOHNNY COME LATELY in my mind. A great guilty pleasure that I haven't seen in decades! Hope I can catch it on DVD soon!

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

"Barbara Payton is very much the ginger in Tomorrow's loaf."

I come here for the film education but I stay for the great idioms. And for Helena Carter in her underwear.


5:25 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer has some thoughts on "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.":

"Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" is an entertaining, fast-moving picture, but there is a distressing cheapness about it. I can understand why it wasn't one of James Cagney's favorites. The advertising materials you published show that it was being pitched as something tough and brutal, like one of the Cagneys of old, or at least the Cagney of "White Heat." In this respect, the obvious budgetary constraints were probably all to the good, forcing it out of the studio and into the streets, where most killings take place, after all. More telling was the lack of script development. In his Warner Bros. days, Cagney had almost always been able to inject some bit of the real world into his character or the story. Here he was playing a much younger man with a certain erudition quite at odds with the life he's leading, yet there is little sense of the conflict that would have made this more than an odd quirk. The spiritualist who becomes a pivotal character is such an obvious charlatan that it's difficult to imagine how he could have attracted the rich man's daughter Cagney meets through him. Barbara Payton's character is similarly pasted together, rather abruptly changing from a sister anxious to exact vengeance on Cagney to his groveling mistress, courtesy of a few whacks with a rolled up towel. There is a suggestion that she may enjoy this kind of domination, but just that, a suggestion. Cagney's enthusiasm with the towel is more evident. All of this, however, speaks of haste and a concern more with sending the plot careening on its way than making it credible.

The cultists will probably be most interested in this film for Barbara Payton's appearance in it. Given the way she tried to buy a career in Hollywood through sex and the tawdry end she came to in her life, it would be tempting to over praise her performance. She was stunningly beautiful, to be sure, and if she was not everybody's idea of a class act, she was at least Franchon Tone's idea of Galatea. There are some photographs of them together, she in a stylish gown and with a small design painted on a cheek, he looking on with adoration, and you know that he was introducing her to a world of artistic pretension and refinement; which is to say, his own. Tom Neal was more her type, however. So, it's almost astonishing that she's quite competent here, though neither better nor worse than the script allowed her to be. At any rate, it was not a breakthrough for her, since such commercial success as the picture enjoyed was due to the Cagney name, while its limitations otherwise were all too obvious.


3:39 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Thanks for your review. It's a Cagney film I've never seen so I hope I can get a hold of it soon.

3:41 AM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

I just got this movie on Blu-ray and I love it. Cagney is so good add usual and makes his character fascinating.

3:59 PM  

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