Victor Mature is Nick Bianco, a two-bit galoot who gets pinched after a sloppy jewel heist. The coppers lean on Bianco to rat out his cronies, but he’s a stand up guy and goes up river. While he’s there, he gets the skinny that his wife killed herself after Rizzo, one of Bianco’s partners in crime, raped her, leaving Bianco’s rug rats locked up at the local orphanage. That’s the last straw for Bianco, who’s finally ready to squeal in exchange for parole. However, instead of squawking about his old accomplices, he starts playing a much more dangerous game by dishing dirt on Tommy Udo, a total psycho who did some time with Bianco.
Largely because Mature is a bit of a cold-fish lead, Kiss of Death is a slow burn, but it blazes white-hot whenever Richard Widmark steps on screen to embody Tommy Udo. No one played coyote-lean crazy like Widmark. Imagine Frank Gorshin losing the green tights and giggles and just going full on terrifying as The Riddler and you’ll get an idea of how Widmark plays Udo. The scene in which Udo pays Rizzo’s wheelchair-bound mom a visit is a classic of its grotesque sort. Director Henry Hathaway also deserves a hat tip when he plays it more subtly. The post-heist scene in which Bianco and his cronies make an excruciatingly slow escape on an elevator may have even taught Hitchcock a thing or two about suspense.
Twilight Time’s new blu-ray edition of Kiss of Death is light on the extras—it only boasts a trailer and a couple of audio commentaries—but the film looks fabulous with deep contrast, natural grain, and a very clean presentation. Audio can be a bit crackly and tinny, but it more than gets the job done, which is more than I can say for Nick Bianco.