Monday, August 6, 2007

Movies: Kiss of Death and Pickup on South Street


My never-ending noirfest continued with a night of Richard Widmark, first as a not-so-likable bad guy and then as a likable not-so-bad bad guy.

Kiss of Death doesn't deserve too much analysis. Victor Mature plays Nick Bianco, a hardened thief who refuses to rat out his colleagues after he's caught in a small jewel heist (featuring a scene from the same office building elevator bank used in Woman in the Window!). A few months into his prison sentence, he finds out that his wife has killed herself (head in the oven) and left their two daugters to the orphanage. Our thief quickly decides to play ball with the D.A., who gets him out on parole in exchange for setting up an evidence-gathering meeting with Widmark's crazy, cackling Tommy Udo—the kind of criminal who punishes "rats" by pushing their wheelchair-bound mothers down staircases. All goes according to plan, and Bianco, who has now married the girl who used to babysit for his children (believe it!) testifies against Udo in court. Too bad Udo's lawyers beat the D.A.; now Bianco knows that Udo will come after his family. To protect them, he sends them off to the country and puts himself directly in the line of fire, hunting out Udo at his Harlem Italian restaurant hangout and baiting him to shoot. The police, as planned, show up right in time to catch Udo in the act, and luckily, Bianco's wounds aren't fatal. He gets to live happily ever after with the babies and the babysitter. It's a combination of cloying and creepy, but not in a noir way: maybe more of a romantico-gothic kind of way, overbearing in any case. Also, there is no kiss of death, which led me to confuse the title with the movie I saw the next night, which does feature a kiss of death (A Double Life).

Widmark is much more interesting in Pickup on South Street, which is a much more interesting movie in and of itself, perhaps because it features a Long Island type "muffin" in the female lead (Jean Peters) rather than the I've-always-loved-you goodie goodie in Kiss of Death (Coleen Gray, whose surname sums up her excitement factor). Widmark is Skip McCoy, a pick-pocket "third-time loser" (caught three times in the act) living in a one-room shack on a South Ferry dock. He picks the muffin's pocketbook on the subway one day while she's being trailed by plainclothes cops—and he gets away with the goods, completely unaware that he's been seen and also unaware of what he has. It turns out that the girl has been passing government secrets to the reds, although even she doesn't know it; she's just doing as her boyfriend tells her, and is ignorant as to the contents of the envelopes and the parties to whom they are going. But now McCoy has a very valuable strip of film, and everyone wants it: the muffin's boyfriend, the police, and the reds, and McCoy wants ten grand for it. In trying to romance him into giving it back, the muffin falls for McCoy (she's got a thing, it seems, for low-life, abusive men. . . although Skip is occasionally rather charming, at least moreso than her current, with whom she has clearly been trying to break). McCoy, who wasn't born yesterday, smacks her around a bit, takes all of the money she has with her, and sends her back to her boss to get the ten grand. Back at the bf's apartment, Mr. Macho decides that he'll just go over to Skip's place with a gun and get the film himself, but muffin, insistent on protecting Skip, refuses to cough up the address, so the boyfriend smacks her around a bit as well. Eventually, after the life of a ragamuffin stoolie is sacrificed at the boyfriend's gun point (she, it turns out, won't cough up Skip's address either—what a ladies' man he must be!), the police get the film, McCoy gets his record wiped clean, and the muffin gets McCoy. The commies, of course, get nuthin but trouble, because in 1953, that's what we gave commies.

This night was kind of a low point in the series, but tomorrow's post will describe movies that are worse, and wackier. Get ready.

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