Blu-Ray Review: Kiss of Death

Director: Henry Hathaway
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer
Based on a story by: Eleazar Lipsky
Starring: Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Richard Widmark, Coleen Gray, Taylor Holmes, Karl Malden
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1947
BBFC Certificate: 12


I hit another of Signal One’s film noir re-releases this week with Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death. Hathaway is a director with quite a few classic titles to his name (True Grit, How the West Was Won, Niagara), but he’s hardly a household name. Looking through his filmography, his work is largely in typically ‘macho’ genres like westerns, war movies and film noirs. Kiss of Death falls into the latter category and came close to the end of a string of noirs he’d directed, including acclaimed titles like 13 Rue Madeleine, The Dark Corner and Call Northside 777.

Kiss of Death sees Victor Mature play Nick Bianco, a criminal that goes to prison after a jewellery store heist goes sour. He gets an offer from Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) to avoid jail time if he squeals on his accomplices that got away, but turns it down. When he finds out his wife has committed suicide after cheating on him with one of those accomplices, leaving his two young daughters in an orphanage, he has second thoughts about the offer though. D’Angelo talks Bianco into an elaborate ploy to put the psychopathic killer Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in jail, which he accepts, getting him put on early parole and back with his kids and new wife Nettie (Coleen Gray). Unfortunately things don’t go quite to plan though and Bianco and his family’s lives are put in danger.

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Blu-Ray Review: Panic in the Streets

Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, John Lee Mahin (uncredited), Philip Yordan (uncredited)
Based on a story by: Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Starring: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1950
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve long been a bit of a hypochondriac/germophobe. If anyone’s ill in my circle of family or friends I’m always terrified of catching something and try everything in my power to avoid contact or obsessively clean my hands any time I get close to them. As such, I’ve always found films about disease particularly disturbing. So a film like Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets plays into my fear as the best thrillers do.

The film opens with a group of unsavoury characters playing cards in a New Orleans bar. One of them looks rather unwell and wants to leave, but the others, including tough guy Blackie (Jack Palance) and his nervous accomplice Raymond Fitch (Zero Mostel), think he’s putting it on to avoid paying what he owes. They chase him down when he does leave and end up killing the man and dumping him in the docks.

The authorities find the body the next morning and perform an autopsy. It seems pretty clear the man died of a gunshot wound, but the doctor discovers he actually had pneumonic plague. This is a highly infectious and fatal disease, so Lt. Commander Clint Reed (Richard Widmark), a doctor with the U.S. Public Health Service, is called in to handle the situation. He believes that the murderer is key to containing the situation as he was obviously in contact with the dead man and must have got his blood on him as he carried the body to the docks. So Reed figures he and the police have got 48 hours to figure out who the killer is before the plague spreads out of their control. Reed also believes the outbreak should be kept from public knowledge as they don’t want the murder to leave New Orleans in a panic. This controversial decision has some repercussions down the line though as Reed and the lead police officer on the case, Capt. Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) begin to crack the case.

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Blu-Ray Review: Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Ronald M. Cohen, Edward Huebsch
Based on a Novel by: Walter Wager
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Charles Durning, Paul Winfield, Richard Widmark, Burt Young, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Roscoe Lee Browne, Melvyn Douglas, Joseph Cotten
Country: USA, West Germany
Running Time: 144 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: 15


I loved the last Robert Aldrich film I reviewed, The Flight of the Phoenix, and I’m a fan of some of his other classics, such as Kiss Me Deadly and The Dirty Dozen, so it didn’t take much to convince me to review one of his last films, 1977’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming. It wasn’t particularly successful when originally released and has hardly grown to be a classic, but it has picked up favour along the way, enough at least for Eureka to add it to their Masters of Cinema roster.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a thriller which sees a former USAF general, Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster), head a team of escaped convicts on a mission to take control of a nuclear silo housing 9 warheads. They quickly succeed (helped by Dell’s inside knowledge) and put America to ransom, making an unusual demand. On top of the standard large amount of cash and flight out of the country, Dell wants the president to release eye-opening information about America’s involvement in the Vietnam war to the general public. He feels the people must know what happened and will press the ‘big red button’ if they aren’t told. Unfortunately, the President (Charles Durning), or at least his staff, aren’t happy about releasing the incriminating document as it will likely cause utter chaos. Nuclear armageddon is hardly an improvement on this though, so the President is stuck between a rock and a hard place, particularly since he is as horrified by the revelations as the public might be, due to not being in power during the war. As time ticks away and several tactics are attempted to talk Dell and his team out of it or physically stop them, we draw ever closer to a climax that can’t possibly end well.

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Blu-Ray Review: Pickup on South Street

Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Based on a Story by: Dwight Taylor
Starring: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, Murvyn Vye, Richard Kiley
Country: USA
Running Time: 80 min
Year: 1953
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve reviewed a few Samuel Fuller films here, one not too long ago in fact (Forty Guns) and I have a habit of feeling a little disappointed after getting excited before seeing them. That’s not the case with Pickup on South Street. This isn’t a first time watch and I think my love for the film is partly why the last couple of titles I watched let me down a little.

Pickup at South Street is a classic film noir that opens on the subway where pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) snatches the purse out of the handbag of Candy (Jean Peters). It turns out he stole more than just a few dollars though. Candy was unwittingly on her way to give a top-secret government microfilm to a Communist agent and Skip ends up with this in his stash. Helped by professional stool pigeon Moe (Thelma Ritter), Candy, the police and the Commies all end up on Skip’s doorstep, demanding the microfilm. Realising what it’s worth, he tries to shake them all down for as much cash as possible. This gets him deeper and deeper into trouble though.

I love a good film noir and this has all the key ingredients of the genre that I can’t get enough of. On top of the moody high contrast photography and seedy back street setting, you get sharp dialogue throughout. It’s real hard boiled gutter talk in this case, with a wonderful streetwise poetry to it.

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Movie Club Podcast #29: PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET and THE BIG COMBO

The Movie Club goes noir, very, very noir. Kurt Halfyard is joined by Thomas Wishloff from Big Kahuna Burger Podcast, Row Three’s Bob Turnbull (who is also caretaker for Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind), Jandy Stone of The Frame, Ariel Fisher of Rue Morgue and Rowthree and The Mamo! Podcasts’s Matthew Price discuss two late-period noirs involving cops, pickpockets, communists, gangsters, dames and the seedier elements of the big smoke: Sam Fuller’s Pickup On South Street and Joseph Lewis’s The Big Combo.

The streaming conversation as well as the downloadable audio podcast can be found at:

The Movie Club Site

 

 
 
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