Monday, January 29, 2007

KISS OF DEATH (20th Century Fox 1947) Fox Home Video

Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947) may be Victor Mature’s finest hour as an actor, but the tale does tend to get a bit long in the tooth long before the final credits roll. All about small time hood, Nick Bianco (Mature) who, after fowling up a jewel heist, gets a second chance at being the good guy by playing stool pigeon for the sympathetic Assistant District Attorney Louie DeAngelo (Brian Donlevy, hopelessly miscast). Arranging his bail, Nick reunites with his two young daughters after their mother sticks her head in a gas oven. No, she wasn’t baking cookies at the time.

The script by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer plays fast and loose with the character of Nick. Did he love his kids? Well, yes – but not enough to not jeopardize ever seeing them again by giving up haplessly botched robberies and going legit. Was he a faithful hubby? Well, yes…but when babysitter Nettie (Coleen Gray) inexplicably turns out, and all grown up to visit Nick in prison, the two become lovers and eventually man and wife.

But now I am leaving out the other half of this equation – the manically inspired characterization of Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark); a chilling concoction of giddy effeminate laughing-boy meets murderous cutthroat. Tommy and Nick were sent up the river together. But Tommy seems to have gotten out ahead.

Reuniting on the outside, as per the D.A’s instructions, Nick sets into motion a plan to get Tommy and his cohorts arrested. The scene where Tommy visits the invalid mother of one of his former colleagues, finds him gone, then decides to tie up and push the wheelchair bound old hag down a flight of stairs to her death is justly famous and quite sadistic. In the end, Nick gets the short end of the stick again. Smelling a rat, Tommy fills him full of bullets. The ending is benign.

Fox’s DVD transfer on Kiss of Death is, in a word – awful. I am at a loss to explain why studios (and all the studios releasing DVD’s today are guilty of this) continue to release films with so much aliasing, shimmering of fine details and edge enhancement present throughout. Honestly, there’s not one scene that is free of these disturbing and distracting digital anomalies.

The B&W image is in a constant state of motion with spectral highlights on everything from picture and door frames to curved chairs and car hubs uncontrollably bouncing about. The gray scale is reasonably clean with minimal film grain and age related artifacts, but again, the digital disturbances are distracting. Extras include audio commentary, stills gallery and theatrical trailers.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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