The Death Kiss
the death kiss | edwin l. marin | barry barringer | gordon kahn | bela lugosi | david manners | adrienne ames | satire | comedy | crime | drama | mystery | romance | based on | novel | madelon st. dennis | united states | john wray | vince barnett | edward van sloan
Film: The Death Kiss
Director: Edwin L. Marin
Writer: Barry Barringer and Gordon Kahn
Starring: Bela Lugosi, David Manners and Adrienne Ames
This is a movie that I hadn’t heard of until looking for horror movies from 1932. I saw that I could stream this one in a couple different places, which made it easy. What did pique my interest was another movie featuring Bela Lugosi that I could tick off the list of unseen.
Synopsis: murder during a film shoot sparks a search for the killer.
We start by seeing Marcia Lane (Adrienne Ames) in a car with two other guys. She tells them that the man she kisses is their target. She is referring to the guy talking with the bellhop. She comes up, kisses him and then leaves. This puts the man on cloud nine until he is shot. We then pan over to see this is a movie. Tom Avery (Edward Van Sloan) is the director and he wants to cut. He didn’t like the theatrics that Myles Brent (Edmund Burns) did while he died. Everyone is shocked to find out he was truly shot. His is also dead.
The information moves through the channels to lock it down. Joseph Steiner (Lugosi) is the manager of the studio and he alerts the head of security, Officer Gulliver (Vince Barnett), to not let anyone in or out. Leon A. Grossmith (Alexander Carr) who is the president here is also told. He panics thinking of the money he is losing.
Despite their efforts, the police arrive to take over the investigation. They’re led by Detective Lt. Sheehan (John Wray). His first suspect is the ex-wife of the victim, Marcia. He also considers Chalmers (Alan Roscoe), when Gulliver catches him trying to discard a loaded gun. It is the same caliber as the weapon that killed Myles.
The case isn’t as cut and dry as the detectives think. Franklyn Drew (David Manners) is a bit actor in this movie and he’s seeing Marcia. He is also into reading crime stories. He continually pokes holes in the story or questions that Sheehan asks. It gets to the point that he sends Frank away. Whoever is behind this is trying to cover up the crime as well. This includes destroying evidence and even killing others who know too much. The only thing that is known is that someone working on this film is the killer.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap. I think that does well in giving you a gist of the story as well as giving you information about the characters involved. I’ll be honest, this movie feels like it was the basis for The Player or at least inspired it. Settling into watching this, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, but I’m glad that I checked this out. We have an interesting movie that is underseen. Without playing my hand too much, this is a gem.
Where I’ll go then would be that the story itself. This is based on a novel, which doesn’t shock me for the era. Sheehan calls out Frank for reading these types of stories, so it feels like it is art imitating life. I’m not sure if this is in the novel or not, but it does feel Madelon St. Dennis is incorporating themselves a bit into the story. I like it. This movie is ahead of its time. It is a murder mystery that is also a satire on the film industry. That surprised me as we are early into the filmmaking business. We’re already pointing out the chain of command and how it becomes problematic with the detectives solving this case. The murder mystery isn’t overly complex, but the commentary there impressed me.
The mystery aspects is where I’ll go next. Even though this movie is now 90+ years old, I won’t spoil it. I am annoyed with myself though. We aren’t getting the most complex mystery. Being that I’ve watched quite a bit of thrillers like this or gialli that would be inspired by these, I was logically working out who the killer was. I ended up guessing wrong, but only because I overlooked a name with evidence. I thought it was someone else. Regardless, this isn’t a cheat and I like the much bigger picture of what happened here as well as why. It isn’t the best one, but being when it came out, I give it a credit for sure.
I’ll then shift to the character of Frank. He is an interesting one. He is an actor and one that hasn’t made a name for himself yet. Manners plays this role well with bringing sass to it. I’m not sure it would work today how Frank acts, but I think it fits for the era this was made. He is doing his own investigation, which would fit right into a giallo. It does feel like a commentary here as well since Sheehan and the other detectives jump to conclusions. If they look deeper, there is evidence to disprove their theory. It feels like this movie is saying that they don’t do the best work and go with the obvious answer, even if it isn’t correct. I don’t hate exploring this, but it does seem ahead of its time there.
That should be enough for the story elements, so I’ll go over to the acting. I’ve already said my piece on Manners. I thought that Ames was fine as the prime suspect of either killing Myles or being behind whoever did it. I did feel bad for her in that regard. It was nice to see Lugosi in a bit different role than I’m used to. He was good here as well. Wray was solid as this detective. He is quick to jump to conclusions to wrap this case up as soon as possible. I did like that. Barnett brings levity that I didn’t necessarily need, but that fit the era. Other than that, I thought that Van Sloan, Carr and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed as well.
Then to close this out would be the filmmaking aspects. I think that this is shot well. The camera is mostly static, but I come to expect that from the era. We do have some framing that worked for me. It did well in hiding things and revealing others when needed. There aren’t much in the way of effects, but we also don’t need them in a movie like this. Other than that, the soundtrack was fine. It doesn’t stand out and it also doesn’t hurt the movie either.
In conclusion, this movie was a lot of fun for me. We are getting an early murder mystery that has commentary about the film industry as well as how the police solve crimes. The acting for this is solid with Manners leading the way. We also get smaller roles from bigger names like Lugosi and Van Sloan. I think the filmmaking aspects were solid. This is another one though that is light on the horror elements. If it was made today, it wouldn’t be classified as one, but being the era, it was placed there. Regardless of that, I did enjoy my time here. I would recommend seeing this out if you enjoy older movies like this as I feel like others have borrowed from this. For this, I found it to be above average. It is just missing some elements for me to go higher.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10