There are men who have no conception of compassion, who occasionally derive pleasure by causing pain to others but it's more accurate to say they judge human beings simply on potential to entertain. That's Tommy Udo who personifies a bigger shadow hanging over mob crook Nick Bianco in 1947's Kiss of Death, a film noir that pushed the boundaries imposed by censorship at the time to show even repentance can't save a man from the choices he made in the past. With a tight script co-written by Ben Hecht, the film is a fast ride to Hell.
Those familiar with Richard Widmark from later films will be surprised to see what a truly frightening portrayal of a psychopath he offers in this film as Tommy Udo. His strange giggle and not only comfort but extreme joy in committing murder are a big part of the feeling of omnipresent danger when Nick (Victor Mature) rats on the mob he and Tommy are part of. Even after Nick is living under a different name, we know he and his family are never safe from Tommy. A big part of that is how successfully Tommy's personality comes across but the impression is also assisted by the great number of location shots in New York City helping to lend the film a credibly anarchic quality.
This is after the movie had already given us a suicide by one innocent character--there's a sense this might be a karmic retribution of sorts for Nick's misdeeds but Nick's anxieties are worse for his uncertainty on the subject. Mature is good in the film as a man who's good at making hard decisions but has nonetheless found himself cornered by life.
Coleen Gray is the female lead and she's sweet, particularly in a scene where she tells Nick kissing him always makes her feel like she's about to faint. But she's saddled with the boring pure good hearted girl role, essentially becoming one of Nick's daughters when she becomes his lover. She has the distracting, pre-Method fake cry, too, that falls a little flat when we're supposed to be concerned for the pain all this is causing the innocent little lady. Moira Shearer, on the DVD commentary for The Red Shoes, recalls director Michael Powell being angry with her when she actually cried for her climactic scene in that 1948 movie. It's strange to compare that to-day to 1999's Eyes Wide Shut where Nichole Kidman locked herself in a bathroom and cried for hours just so she could get credibly red and puffy eyes and nose.
But attitudes were already changing in the 40s considering, as I said, Kiss of Death has many location shots instead of the familiar artificial Hollywood sound-stage and backlot environment, although the location shots are not as copious as those in 1948's The Naked City.
Artifice has its value, too--the movie also uses a lot Expressionistic shadow as part of its brilliant portrait of the world where doing the right thing can sometimes just make things a lot worse. A lifelong, desperate moral free for all in which Tommy Udo is a gleeful agent for a terrible, fundamental truth.
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