Movie Diary 2/14/2018

fiend2Kiss of Death (Henry Hathaway, 1947). I’d forgotten how very solid this is, from the carefully-built Hecht-Lederer screenplay to the weighty doggedness of Victor Mature’s lead performance. And Widmark, of course, giggling his way to stardom and babbling about shooting people in the belly. Also, Colleen Gray is unusually fervent in the stock leading-lady role. It’s arranged around suspense sequences that feel mechanically-designed but are nevertheless well-executed, with a minimum of music. The real locations (this movie was part of the “shot where it happened” craze of the late ’40s) definitely add flavor. And the shot of Widmark approaching the camera, glimpsed between the slight parting of a pair of curtains, his malevolence so well established that he creates a demonic presence even through that narrow aperture – terrific.

The Fiend Who Walked the West (Gordon Douglas, 1958). A remake of Kiss of Death, set in the West, and mysteriously marketed as a horror picture (complete with snatch of theremin-wobbling beneath the opening credits, plucked from the Day the Earth Stood Still soundtrack). Hugh O’Brian takes the Mature role, the stoolie, and Robert Evans plays the psycho, with more screen time than Widmark got. Yes, that Robert Evans, in a performance that pretty much ended his acting career – he plays the murderous Western outlaw as juvenile delinquent, except that his voice has a tendency to erupt in a piercing Jerry Lewis-like squeal. The Hollywood pro Douglas gives it his best shot, though, and the film actually hits its marks in an efficient way, with widescreen black & white cinematography (by Joseph MacDonald) that’s more than credible.

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