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Kiss of Death

Kiss of Death(1947)

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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 January 30, 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 February 12, 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 January 1947, the Los Angeles Times 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 made his screen acting debut in the film, and many reviewers commented favorably on his performance. In its review, Variety proclaimed Widmark the "acting sensation of the piece...the most shuddery menace of the year." Bosley Crowther remarked in his New York Times 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 October 14, 1948 New York Times 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 December 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 August 1947. On December 10, 1951, Bachmann agreed to drop the suit.
       On January 12, 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 October 28, 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 April 6, 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.