Kiss of Death (1947) Henry Hathaway
Richard Widmark (above left) made quite a career playing sadistic criminals in film noir and while his role in Kiss of Death confirms this, it’s largely Victor Mature (above right) who’s allowed to show us a more nuanced performance.
Mature plays Nick Bianco, who gets caught trying to pull off a jewelry store robbery. Nick refuses to rat out his three friends who helped him with the caper, even when the Assistant DA Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) insists that unless he plays ball, he’ll never see his two kids again. After Nick’s wife commits suicide after his arrest, Nick caves in. What does D’Angelo want from Nick? To bring him the goods on local hood Tommy Udo (Widmark).
Kiss of Death is primarily remembered for two reasons: Widmark’s giggling, psychotic performance in general and the famous scene in which Udo pushes a wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs. Yet people tend to forget the wonderful on location cinematography by Norbert Brodine – some of the most effective and evocative in noir – and Victor Mature’s performance.
My mom was a huge movie fan, but she had her favorites and her not-so-favorites. For her, Mature fell into the second category; she referred to him as “Victor Manure,” always feeling that his looks and muscles carried him over the limitations of his acting. She may have been right in the case of some of his films, but not here. The anguish he portrays over the death of his wife, the sheer emotion he can’t help but contain when reunited with his kids, and the fearless bravado of the film’s first segment require a wide range of skills, all of which Mature delivers. Widmark’s Udo may be the more memorable of the two characters, but give Mature his due.