In the mid-1940s, studio production costs drove Hollywood to try something virtually unheard of since the advent of talkies: shooting movies on location. With city streets offering ready-made backdrops, that old discarded ’30s genre, the crime melodrama, was reborn.
Kiss of Death, a filmed-in-New York model for this new breed, plays like a museum piece today. The video transfer enhances the crisp photography while ruthlessly exposing the echoey sound, and Victor Mature, as an informant crook, makes a dull lead. Only Richard Widmark’s giggling hit man makes this movie more than a footnote.
Widmark played more nut-case hoodlums before Panic in the Streets delivered him from permanent typecasting. As a health inspector tracking plague-infected thieves through New Orleans, Widmark winningly modulates his psycho tics into a crusty-good-guy persona (watch for one brief lapse into his alarming Kiss of Death snigger). The transfer does full justice to director Elia Kazan’s flavorsome waterfront locales, and the moral imperative of the plot-petty politics are no excuse for not stopping a deadly virus-makes one wish that public officials as tireless and dedicated as Widmark’s character had been around when AIDS first appeared.