Friday, March 25, 2011

The Death Kiss (1932)


You know there are a few movies with “Death” and “Kiss” in the title. This may be the first. But does that make this flick from the 100 Mystery Classics collection better than “Kiss of Death” or “A Kiss Before Dying”?


On the set of a movie one of the actors is killed during a scene where he is gunned down. The police are called in and soon find out that no one liked the dead chump. Luckily writer Franklyn Drew (David Manners) is on hand to make sure that his gal Marcia (Adrienne Ames) doesn’t get accused of this murder most foul. Of course with Mr. Steiner (Bela Lugosi) standing around and glowering, it’s hard to suspect him. Things spiral out of control rather quickly and bodies start stacking up. Is there a clever murderer around, or does Marcia really have “The Death Kiss”?

Good Points:

  • Interesting glimpse on how a movie set might have worked in the 30’s
  • Bela isn’t playing a vampire!
  • Adrienne Ames is pretty in a 30’s kinda way

Bad Points

  • Dumb humor and no threat drags down pacing
  • Bela is hardly in it
  • David Manners is pretty annoying


Another 30’s crack at the humorous mystery and one that falls flat. The mystery is rather dull, and the humor is really dated. I found none of the characters are likable. In the end a few interesting moments dealing with the murders and some of the 30s styling kept this from being a complete waste of time. But there are better comedy mysteries to enjoy (“The Thin Man” for instance).

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 3

Sound: 2

Music: n/a

Acting: 2

Script: 2

Direction: 3

Entertainment: 2

Total: 2

In Depth

Once again we get a script that just doesn’t do too much to keep the viewers interest. The murder itself starts out interesting, with the set getting locked down almost immediately and yet none of the clues adding up. I liked how all the extras playing G-men had a caliber of weapon completely different from the bullet that was used on the victim. When Drew discovers the actual murder weapon it was pretty clever.

In fact a lot of the main elements of the murders were handled well. When you think about it, the killer was doing a great job deflecting suspicion on everyone else. But the identity of the killer is telegraphed especially when you start piecing together who had access to what parts of the studio.

They do go out of their way to make Bela look like the culprit, but it’s so obvious that you end up writing him off. Mostly he stands around and scowls and looks grim.

For me it was David Manners who really made this difficult to enjoy. He plays that type of hero who is smug and a know it all. He spends the entire movie mocking the detective assigned to the case. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but Manners really grated on me. I’ve seen this before, where most the cops are portrayed as muscle bound morons. In fact you see this in “The Thin Man”, but William Powell has a lot more charisma than Manners.

But a lot of it has to do with the bad comedy writing. There are attempts at witty one liners, and they mostly fail. Then there are the broad humorous moments, mostly revolving around the idiot security guard and the bad Jewish stereotypical studio boss. Wow, talk about uncomfortable. There really isn’t a laugh to be found here.

So what you get is a pretty weak effort with a few moments of interest. The movie is immersed in the 30’s so if you like the fashions and designs you’ll find some neat stuff (the studio bosses office is impressive). Otherwise, avoid it.

James Lileks had a lot to say about this one. Check out his review here.

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