Richard Widmark in his screen debut dominates “Kiss of Death”, a fairly suspenseful film noir crime drama. As the crazed psychotic Tommy Udo, Widmark’s portrayal is just plain creepy and his performance alone makes this film a must see. The classic scene where Udo tosses wheelchair bound Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs still packs one a hell of a punch. The film stars Victor Mature as Nick Bianco, a small time crook who is caught after a Christmas Eve jewel robbery and sent to jail. Assistant D.A. D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) tries to persuade Bianco to name his two partners in the robbery but Nick is no stoolie. This typical hoodlum stance however results in a twenty year sentence. Three years later after a visit from Nettie Cavello, a former babysitter for Nick’s family, Nick finds out his wife committed suicide after she was attacked by Pete Rizzo, one of Nick’s accomplices in the jewel robbery. Distraught Nick decides to tell the D’Angelo everything in exchange for a visit to see his two daughters. D’Angelo arranges for Nick to tell his crooked lawyer Howser that Rizzo squealed on him. Howser hires the now free crazed killer Udo to murder Rizzo. When Tommy gets to Rizzo’s apartment, he has already fled and the only person there is his wheelchair bound mother. Upset that Rizzo escaped, Udo ties mother Rizzo to the wheelchair with telephone cord and tosses her down a flight of stairs. Now released from jail, with the help of D’Angelo, Nick marries Nettie and with the two kids, they are living an honest and clean life. However, Nick still has some debt to be paid. D’Angelo wants him to get the goods on Udo. Nick meets with Udo who takes Tommy around the town introducing him to underworld characters, revealing enough information for Nick to tell D’Angelo who can now prosecute Udo. D’Angelo wants Nick who is living under an assumed name with his family, to testify against Udo, swearing that a conviction is a sure thing. Reluctantly Nick testifies however, Udo is found not guilty and released. Now knowing that Nick was a turn coat and squealed Udo is out to kill Nick. The confrontation that follows has Nick setting up a meeting with Udo who despises squealers so much he wants to shoot Nick personally, ignoring his cohorts advise about him being a three time loser if he is caught with a fire arm. The films ending is fairly standard stuff. Nick survives the shootout and Udo goes to jail.
In addition, a large problem is its conflicting moral view. First, we are to root for Bianco living the criminal code and not squealing, a position most crime movies take. Then after finding out about his wife’s tragic death Nick turns stoolie and sings his way out of jail. At this point, the film now wants us to accept Nick the canary as the hero of the story. Maybe this is the reason Udo was made such an evil despicable character so that is Nick’s canary singing does not look that bad when compared to the psychotic Tommy Udo tossing a sick old lady down a flight of stairs.
Victor Mature is a pretty stiff actor and gives one of his typical performances as Nick Bianco. For Coleen Gray, this was the first time she received screen credit and is decent as the adoring baby sitter with a crush on Nick. Coleen had previously appeared in a couple of other films unbilled. However, as mentioned earlier this is all Richard Widmark’s film. He is just amazing as the crazed wide eyed disturbed Tommy Udo, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award. Listen and look at Widmark as Udo, the high pitched giggling voice. The hat he wears. It looks like the young Widmark here was auditioning for the role of The Joker for the next upcoming Batman movie.