Kiss of Death (1947) / Edge of Eternity (1959) Blu-rays Review: Homicidal Tendencies

Kiss of Death (1947)
One of the most quintessential titles to ever emerge from the annals of film noir, Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death still packs quite a punch today, long after a bastardized 1995 remake from the same studio left many with a foul aftertaste. Here, however, the flavor from the fatal lips administering the eponymous smooch is both robust and plentiful. This is particularly true whenever the movie’s most famous character ‒ a giggling psychopathic killer sporting the time-honored moniker of Tommy Udo, as played in a groundbreaking debut by a young Richard Widmark ‒ livens up the screen as he prepares to dispatch another poor victim.

But Tommy Udo is just one of the many supporting pillars of a well-constructed tale of suspense from screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, as based on a 100-page manuscript from novelist Eleazar Lipsky. At the epicenter of this 20th Century Fox classic is none other than Victor Mature, who stars as Nick Bianco: a regular visitor to the finest penitentiaries in New York. Sure, he’s technically a “bad guy,” but his heart seems to be in the right place, such as when he and his pals pull off a jewelry heist on Christmas Eve at the opening of the picture; a crime our venerable anti-hero commits for the sake of his family’s well being.

Alas, poor Nick winds up in trouble once more, leaving his little girls and an unseen wife (whom the censors omitted) to fend for themselves. Three years later, Nick learns about his wife’s recent suicide (one of two reasons Nick’s wife does not appear in the picture). He then hears she was raped by one of his former cronies (the other reason Nick’s wife does not appear in the picture) and his daughters have been sent to an orphanage. So, with little else to live for, Bianco decides to play ball with Professor Quatermass Assistant District Attorney Louis D’Angelo (the great Brian Donlevy), who is eager to put a few bad men behind bars.

Offering its viewers plenty, but delivering so much more, Kiss of Death is truly a landmark motion picture. It put Richard Widmark’s name on the map, earning the greenhorn screen actor an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win in the process. Batman lovers should also take note here: Widmark was reportedly heavily influenced by The Joker, and his uniquely creepy character in turn inspired Frank Gorshin’s memorably manic portrayal of The Riddler in the iconic Batman TV series from the ’60s. Plus, who can ever forget (or even forgive him?) Dickie for that that dynamic scene where he demonstrates the incorrect way of assisting a disabled person?

The lovely Coleen Gray also makes a memorable first impression as Mature’s former jailbait neighbor/on-call babysitter turned love interest (and who also narrates the tale, unlike most noir flicks, which are usually narrated by men). Mildred Dunnock is the doomed wheelchair-bound victim of Tommy Udo, and a young Karl Malden is also featured. Taylor Holmes, Howard Smith, and two additional film debuts ‒ that of Susan Cabot (who would soon appear in several B movie cult classics for Roger Corman) and Jesse White (the original Maytag repairman) ‒ add to the already great cast of character actors.

Twilight Time brings us this must-have classic from cinema’s dark side via a positively stellar 1.33:1 presentation and English DTS-HD MA Mono soundtrack with optional and easy-to-read English (SDH) subtitles. Special features for this release include an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 score of composer David Buttolph’s work; two audio commentaries ‒ a new recording with Twilight Time’s own Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, and a previously issued track with Alain Silver and James Ursini, as ported over from the 2005 DVD ‒ and an original theatrical trailer. Finally, lovingly-written liner notes from the aforementioned Ms. Kirgo wrap up this Kiss to die for.

Edge of Eternity (1959)
Transitioning from the gritty, black-and-white Academy Ratio streets of New York to a lush, Eastmancolor CinemaScope panorama of the Grand Canyon may seem like quite a switch. But don’t let the drastic change of scenery fool you: there’s just as much danger to be found at the Edge of Eternity as there is in Tommy Udo’s domain. This is something our picture’s leading man Cornel Wilde (whom there is no mistaking looks somewhat similar to Victor Mature) soon discovers, the men and women of a tiny little desert community on the verge of becoming a ghost town have just as many secrets and desires to hide. And every single one is worth killing for.

A few years after helming one of the Atomic Age’s exemplary movies, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, director Don Siegel (who directed everything from Riot in Cell Block 11 to The Killers, and even Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry too!) returned to the genre he would become best associated with: the action-thriller. And although Edge of Eternity‘s late ’50s setting may be as far removed from the contemporary popcorn summer blockbuster currently preventing the film industry from progressing any further today, it is extremely interesting to note Siegel’s particular approach would all-but become an uncredited template to the action-thriller of the ’80s.

Why, there’s even an early POV scene from a killer’s perspective to be found in Edge of Eternity ‒ a filmmaking technique rarely used then that would later become a staple of the Italian gialli movement from the swingin’ ’60s and ’70s, as well as the gory American slasher flicks of the ’80s which the giallo gave birth to. (Hey, way to do, Don!) As for the story itself, Edge of Eternity finds the wildly wily Mr. Wilde as a deputy sheriff in a tiny town nearby Arizona’s best-known landmark. And it is there that the story first begins to unfold, as a clumsy would-be assassin unsuccessfully attempts to assist an unknown outside into that great big ditch in the ground.

When word of the botched hit lands in the lap of no-nonsense deputy Les Martin (Wilde) from peculiar prospector Tom Fadden, he chooses to ignore it, as the source of the material has a tendency to stretch the truth a bit. Instead, Deputy Martin chases a hot young woman (Victoria Shaw) in a speeding vehicle (the Arizona justice system hasn’t changed very much over the years), who turns out to not only be single, but it also the daughter of a slightly suspicious local family, whose patriarch owns a nearby (currently closed) gold mine. But when the town’s tiny morgue begins to run short of vacancies, Les decides it’s time to show them whippersnappers that Les is More!

With an exciting game-changing climax in tow ‒ wherein we learn who the real brains behind the various heinous deeds is, shortly before our hero and villain fight to the death atop a moving tram suspended high over the Grand Canyon ‒ Edge of Eternity does not disappoint. A marvelous supporting cast for this Columbia Pictures release includes Mickey Shaughnessy, Edgar Buchanan (yes, good ol’ Uncle Joe himself!), young Jack Elam, and the great Dabbs Greer. Richard Collins and Knut Swenson wrote the screenplay from an original story by Swenson and Ben Markson.

Twilight Time brings us another amazing transfer here, enabling us to dive deep into the assorted death-defying thrills Edge of Eternity has to offer, which are quite plentiful. The film ‒ which I would like to add can be perceived as a precursor to the desert-based neo-noir of the ’90s ‒ is presented with an impressive English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack and English (SDH) subtitles. An isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 score of composer Daniele Amfitheatrof’s efforts is also on-hand, as is another Twilight Time-produced audio commentary with C. Courtney Joyner and Nick Redman, which reveals many an interesting (and one really bizarre) tidbit about the production.

Julie Kirgo once more pens the liner notes for this Limited Edition release from Twilight Time, which ‒ as is the case with Kiss of Death ‒ is currently waiting for you to add them to your collection. but don’t wait until you’re staring down from the Edge of Eternity to get ’em: these two classic noirs are reserved to only 3,000 pressings of each title and are available while supplies last. Enjoy.

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Luigi Bastardo

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