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Kiss of Death (1947 film): Wikis


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Kiss of Death

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Produced by Fred Kohlmar
Written by Screenplay:
Ben Hecht
Charles Lederer
Eleazar Lipsky
Starring Victor Mature
Brian Donlevy
Coleen Gray
Richard Widmark
Taylor Holmes
Howard Smith
Karl Malden
Music by David Buttolph
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Editing by J. Watson Webb Jr.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) August 27, 1947
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,523,000

Kiss of Death is a 1947 film noir movie directed by Henry Hathaway and written by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer from a story by Eleazar Lipsky. The story revolves around the story of the film's protagonist and antagonist (played by Victor Mature and Richard Widmark respectively). The movie also starred Brian Donlevy and introduced Coleen Gray in her first billed role.[1]



The film begins, as it ends, with narration by Nettie (Coleen Gray). On Christmas Eve, down-on-his-luck Nick Bianco (Victor Mature), an ex-convict, and his three cohorts rob a jewelry store located on an upper floor of a New York skyscraper. Before they can exit the building, however, the proprietor sets off his alarm, and Nick is apprehended by the police.

Assistant District Attorney Louis D'Angelo (Donlevy) tries to persuade Nick to name his accomplices in exchange for a light sentence. Sure that his lawyer, Earl Howser (Taylor Holmes), and cohorts will look after his wife and two young daughters while he is incarcerated, Nick refuses and is given a twenty-year sentence. Three years later, at Sing Sing Prison, Nick learns that his wife has committed suicide, and his daughters have been sent to an orphanage.

Nick then is visited by Nettie Cavallo (Gray), a young woman who used to babysit his girls, who reluctantly tells him that his wife had an affair with Pete Rizzo, one of his accomplices. Nick decides to tell all to D'Angelo. Because so much time has elapsed, however, D'Angelo cannot use Nick's information to reduce his sentence, but makes a deal that if Nick helps the police on another case, he will be paroled. D'Angelo questions Nick about one of his previous, unsolved robberies, which he pulled off with Rizzo. Nick implies to Howser that Rizzo "squealed" on him.

Widmark as Tommy Udo.

Howser, who also acts as a go-between to a fence for his clients, tells Tommy Udo, a sadistic killer, about Rizzo's "squealing." When Udo shows up at Rizzo's tenement, only Rizzo's mother (Mildred Dunnock) is present. Annoyed, Udo pushes the wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs, killing her.

Soon after, Nick is freed on parole at D'Angelo's behest, and immediately pledges his love to Nettie. To stay paroled, Nick then continues his work with D'Angelo, conniving to run into Udo, whom he knows from Sing Sing, at a boxing match. The unsuspecting Udo takes Nick to various clubs, including one at which narcotics are being smoked, and Udo reveals enough information to Nick about a murder he committed to enable the police to arrest him.

When Udo later comes up for trial, Nick, who is now married to Nettie and living in Astoria, Queens, is reluctant to testify against him, but realizes he must in order to maintain his parole. Despite Nick's testimony and other evidence, Udo is acquitted.

Sure that the killer will be after him, and that the police will not be able to protect him and his family, Nick sends Nettie and the children to the country. Nick then searches for Udo at his favorite haunts and finally finds him at Luigi's restaurant in East Harlem. Before confronting Udo, Nick telephones D'Angelo and instructs him to go to a police station near the restaurant and await his call. Nick provokes Udo into shooting him, knowing that he will now be incarcerated for life as a "three time loser."

Though badly wounded, Nick survives, and he and Nettie look forward to a happy, peaceful life together.


Critical reception

Kiss of Death is considered a significant example of film noir, and is also notable as a breakout role for Richard Widmark.

Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "Henry Hathaway's gritty film noir about a 'reformed' career criminal forced back into the criminal world never rang completely true despite being filmed in a semi-documentary style and the use of authentic location shots to make it seem realistic. Nevertheless, it's a superb fiction film based on actual events with memorable action scenes of lunacy such as a chuckling psycho hit man, Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark, an unforgettable screen debut), pushing a wheelchair-bound old lady (Mildred Dunnock) down a flight of stairs to her death without ever stopping his maniacal chuckling."[2]

Writers Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton wrote, "From Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death (1947), one will remember that nasty little creep with the wild eyes and high-pitched laugh, neurotic to the core, which Richard Widmark has turned into one of his finest roles."[3]

Critic Nick Schager wrote, "It would be no surprise to learn that Richard Widmark was a big "Batman" fan, as his star-making screen debut in Kiss of Death as grinning, cackling psychopath Tommy Udo (for which he received an Academy Award nomination) seems heavily indebted to the Caped Crusader's arch-nemesis The Joker. Certainly, the live-wire actor's amoral lunatic, a fiend who delights in pushing crippled wheelchair-bound women down stairs, is the primary (and perhaps only) reason to sit through Henry Hathaway's over-praised 1947 noir, a jumbled piece of cinematic crime fiction that's visually elegant (having been neorealistically shot on-location throughout Manhattan) but regularly confused about its own point of view."[4]





  • On January 12, 1948, Widmark, Victor Mature and Coleen Gray reprised their screen roles for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast. Mature and Widmark also reprised their screen roles for three broadcasts on The Screen Guild Theater, the first of which aired on October 28, 1948.


  1. ^ Kiss of Death at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, December 28, 2004. Last accessed: August 30, 2008.
  3. ^ Borde, Raymond and Etienne Chaumeton. A Panorama of American Film Noir: 1941-1953. City Lights Publishers, 1992. ISBN 13-9780872864122.
  4. ^ Schager, Nick. Slant Magazine, film review, December 23, 2005. Last accessed: August 30, 2008.

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