Kiss of Death (1947)

95 or 98-100 mins | Drama | September 1947

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HISTORY

The film's working titles were Stoolpigeon and Blind Date . According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck changed the title from Stoolpigeon , the name of Eleazar Lipsky's original story, to Blind Date , then retitled it Kiss of Death after reading a newspaper column in which Hedda Hopper referred to an event in a politician's life as "the kiss of death." Lipsky, who submitted his story under the name Lawrence L. Blaine, was a former New York assistant district attorney.
       The film's opening credits conclude with the following written acknowledgment: "All scenes in this motion picture, both exterior and interior, were photographed in the State of New York on the actual locale associated with the story." Contemporary news items note that among the New York City locations used were The Tombs, the Bronx County jail, the downtown Criminal Courts Building, the Louisa M. Alcott house on Sullivan Street, the Chrysler Building and the Hotel Marguery. Other locations included Sing Sing Prison and Astoria, NY, and Fort Lee, NJ. A Life magazine article about the film noted that when the company filmed inside Sing Sing, all rooms and cell blocks had to be cleared out before any shots were taken because of a law that prohibited the photographing of real convicts. Voice-over narration, spoken by Coleen Gray as the character "Nettie," opens the story and is heard intermittently throughout the film.
       Correspondence from the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that the PCA ... More Less

The film's working titles were Stoolpigeon and Blind Date . According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck changed the title from Stoolpigeon , the name of Eleazar Lipsky's original story, to Blind Date , then retitled it Kiss of Death after reading a newspaper column in which Hedda Hopper referred to an event in a politician's life as "the kiss of death." Lipsky, who submitted his story under the name Lawrence L. Blaine, was a former New York assistant district attorney.
       The film's opening credits conclude with the following written acknowledgment: "All scenes in this motion picture, both exterior and interior, were photographed in the State of New York on the actual locale associated with the story." Contemporary news items note that among the New York City locations used were The Tombs, the Bronx County jail, the downtown Criminal Courts Building, the Louisa M. Alcott house on Sullivan Street, the Chrysler Building and the Hotel Marguery. Other locations included Sing Sing Prison and Astoria, NY, and Fort Lee, NJ. A Life magazine article about the film noted that when the company filmed inside Sing Sing, all rooms and cell blocks had to be cleared out before any shots were taken because of a law that prohibited the photographing of real convicts. Voice-over narration, spoken by Coleen Gray as the character "Nettie," opens the story and is heard intermittently throughout the film.
       Correspondence from the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that the PCA rejected initial drafts of the picture's screenplay. In a 30 Jan 1947 letter to Twentieth Century-Fox public relations head Jason S. Joy, PCA director Joseph I. Breen stated that the "basic story seems to violate the provisions of the Production Code by appearing to present the processes of law and order and the administration of justice in such a light as to cast discredit on the effectiveness of the court system." In an internal memo, Breen complained that the script depicted law enforcement agencies as "utterly futile in their efforts to bring criminals to justice without the aid of stool pigeons." Breen also objected to references to "Tommy Udo's" drug use and the inclusion of a "dope den" in the film. On 12 Feb 1947, however, Breen wrote to Joy to say that because of the "assurances to us that this picture will be made with the full cooperation of New York law enforcement authorities, our original concern...is quite fully alleviated." Although Breen reiterated his objections to the drug references, the film does depict Udo as a drug user. Some state censor boards demanded that the scene in which Udo pushes "Ma Rizzo" down the stairs be eliminated.
       In Jan 1947, the LAT announced that James Cagney was being considered for the film's lead. Information in the legal records indicates that several scenes shot for the picture were deleted from the final film, including ones featuring characters "Maria Bianco" and "Pete Rizzo." Maria, who was played by Patricia Morison, and Pete, who was portrayed by Henry Brandon, are mentioned many times in the film's dialogue, but never seen. Other actors whose roles were cut from the completed picture were Robert Keith, Gioia Lombardi and Ronnie Marie Morse. Richard Widmark (1914--2008) made his screen acting debut in the film, and many reviewers commented favorably on his performance. In its review, Var proclaimed Widmark the "acting sensation of the piece...the most shuddery menace of the year." Bosley Crowther remarked in his NYT review, "Mr. Widmark runs away with all the acting honors." For his work, Widmark received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Lipsky also was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Story. Studio records affirm that the final cost of the film, with advertising, was $2,523,000.
       According to an 14 Oct 1948 NYT item, independent movie theater owners in London removed Ben Hecht's screenwriting credit from prints of Kiss of Death because of his anti-British attitudes, including statements made in a published advertisement. The same owners also voted to ban future Hecht films from their theaters. According to the legal records, Twentieth Century-Fox's Foreign Department in New York inquired about the exclusion of Hecht's credit and was informed that such exclusion would constitute a breach of contract with Hecht and the Screen Writer's Guild. Studio records also indicate that in Dec 1948, novelist Lawrence B. Bachmann filed a $125,000 lawsuit against Zanuck, producer Fred Kohlmar, Lipsky, Penguin Books and Twentieth Century-Fox, claiming that the title of his 1946 novel The Kiss of Death had been appropriated by the filmmakers. Bachmann argued that by using a title almost identical to his novel's, the studio had taken unfair advantage of publicity generated by his publisher, Knopf, and had misled the general public by suggesting that the film was based on his work. Penguin Books published a novelization of the film, also titled Kiss of Death , in Aug 1947. On 10 Dec 1951, Bachmann agreed to drop the suit.
       On 12 Jan 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 Screen Guild Theatre broadcasts, the first of which aired on 28 Oct 1948. Kiss of Death has been remade two times as a feature. In 1958, Twentieth Century-Fox released a Western version of Eleazar Lipsky's story and Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer's screenplay, entitled The Fiend Who Walked the West , directed by Gordon Douglas and starring Hugh O'Brian and Robert Evans. Fox also released a 1995 version, titled Kiss of Death , directed by Barbet Schroeder and starring David Caruso, Nicholas Cage and Helen Hunt. Gun in His Hand , a teleplay that aired on 6 Apr 1956 on the 20th Century-Fox Hour , used many of the same plot elements as Kiss of Death , but was not based on the Hecht-Lederer-Lipsky script. The television version, which was set in the West, starred Robert Wagner, Debra Paget and Ray Collins, and was directed by Lewis Allen. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
16 Aug 1947.
---
Daily Variety
13 Aug 1947.
---
Film Daily
19 Aug 47
p. 10.
Hollywood Citizen-News
14 Aug 1947.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Nov 46
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 47
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Apr 47
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
19 May 47
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 47
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 48
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Dec 48
p. 4.
Independent Film Journal
29 Mar 47
p. 53.
Life
22 Sep 47
pp. 143-44.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jan 1947.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
23 Aug 47
p. 3794.
New York Times
16 Mar 1947.
---
New York Times
11 May 1947.
---
New York Times
28 Aug 47
p. 28.
New York Times
14 Oct 1948.
---
Variety
13 Aug 47
p. 15.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Bernard Sell
Bill O'Leary
Olga Borget
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Scr
Based on a story by
Wrt of addl scenes
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Studio prod mgr
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Blind Date
Stoolpigeon
Release Date:
September 1947
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 13 August 1947
New York opening: 27 August 1947
Production Date:
10 March--mid May 1947
addl scenes 23 June--28 June 1947
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
13 August 1947
Copyright Number:
LP1392
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
95 or 98-100
Length(in feet):
8,968
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
12356
SYNOPSIS

On Christmas Eve, down-on-his-luck Nick Bianco, an ex-convict, and his three cohorts rob a jewelry store located on the top 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. Later, Assistant District Attorney Louis D'Angelo tries to persuade Nick, who has two young daughters and a wife, to name his accomplices in exchange for a light sentence. Sure that his lawyer, Earl Howser, and cohorts will look after his family 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. When Nick then is visited by Nettie Cavallo, a young woman who used to babysit his girls, and learns that his wife had been attacked by Pete Rizzo, one of his accomplices, he 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 allowed to see his children. To that end, D'Angelo questions Nick about one of his previous, unsolved robberies, which he pulled off with Rizzo, and has Nick inform Howser that Rizzo "squealed" on him. Howser, who also acts as a fence for his clients, hires Tommy Udo, a sadistic killer, to murder Rizzo, but when Udo shows up at Rizzo's tenement, only Ma Rizzo is present. Annoyed, Udo pushes the wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs, killing her. ... +


On Christmas Eve, down-on-his-luck Nick Bianco, an ex-convict, and his three cohorts rob a jewelry store located on the top 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. Later, Assistant District Attorney Louis D'Angelo tries to persuade Nick, who has two young daughters and a wife, to name his accomplices in exchange for a light sentence. Sure that his lawyer, Earl Howser, and cohorts will look after his family 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. When Nick then is visited by Nettie Cavallo, a young woman who used to babysit his girls, and learns that his wife had been attacked by Pete Rizzo, one of his accomplices, he 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 allowed to see his children. To that end, D'Angelo questions Nick about one of his previous, unsolved robberies, which he pulled off with Rizzo, and has Nick inform Howser that Rizzo "squealed" on him. Howser, who also acts as a fence for his clients, hires Tommy Udo, a sadistic killer, to murder Rizzo, but when Udo shows up at Rizzo's tenement, only Ma Rizzo 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 the suburbs under her last name, 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. Before confronting Udo, Nick telephones a concerned D'Angelo and instructs him to go to a police station near the restaurant and await his call. Nick tries to reason with Udo, but when the psychopath threatens to harm Nick's family, Nick warns him that if he does, he will go to D'Angelo with information about other crimes he knows Udo committed. Although Udo is aware that, as a "three-time loser," he will spend the rest of his life behind bars if he is found guilty of any crime, he leaves the restaurant and prepares to have Nick gunned down from the back seat of his car. Deducing Udo's plan, Nick calls D'Angelo to tell him that a confrontation is about to occur. Nick then walks to Udo's car and dares him to shoot, which Udo does, repeatedly. Before Udo can escape, however, the police capture him. Though badly wounded, Nick survives, and he and Nettie look forward to a happy, peaceful life together. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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