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While filming the closing scene of "The Death Kiss", leading man Myles Brent is actually killed. Having played around with, or been married to, most of the women connected with the movie studio, there are lots of suspects. When leading lady Marcia Lane is arrested for the killing, her suiter, a studio writer, starts to investigate the killing in order to prove her innocence. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"The Death Kiss" (Tiffany, 1932), directed by Edwin L. Marin, might have been a very interesting vampire movie, but instead, the director fools his movie audience by revealing, from the very first few minutes into the story, to be an inside study at the behind the scenes look in movie making, combining murder mystery with comedy, but not all too successfully. The main interest is not in the "who done it" plot itself, but on its three major actors, David Manners, Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan, better known today for their performances in director Tod Browning's thriller, "Dracula" (Universal, 1931), with Lugosi as the title-role character-star with Manners and Van Sloan in support. In this reunion, Manners takes center stage over Lugosi and Van Sloan in smaller roles. Although Lugosi is not in every scene, he does make his presence felt throughout its 70 minute venture.
The fade-in of "The Death Kiss" opens outside a ritzy nightspot where a woman is to mark a certain man for death by kissing him in the lobby of a fashionable apartment building. Moments later, gun shots are fired by passing mobsters, killing the man in question, followed by a crowd gathering. Then the camera pulls away, revealing the sound stage and focusing on the behind-the-scenes crew consisting of a script girl, cameramen, assistant director, and director (Edward Van Sloan) who wants to have a retake, feeling that the death scene did not look realistic enough. Hollywood realism sets in when moments later, it is revealed that the actor, Myles Brent (Edmund Burns), the doomed character in the production of THE DEATH KISS, has actually been shot and killed. Top-billed David Manners as Franklin Drew, a mystery writer, steps into the picture trying to solve the murder in order to prevent the leading lady, Marcia Lane (Adrienne Ames), whom he has become interested, from becoming the prime suspect. Detectives are called in, and after a few more murders at the movie studio, Drew draws to his own conclusions as the detectives (and the viewers) become baffled before the killer is revealed.
The supporting cast includes Bela Lugosi as Joseph Steiner, president of the Tonart movie studio; Edward Van Sloan as Tom Avery, the film director; John Wray as Detective Sheehan; Vince Barnett as Officer Gulliver, affectionately called "a Keystone Cop" due to his buffoonery; Alexander Carr as the accented Leon A. Grossmith; with Barbara Bedford as the script girl; and Harold Waldridge as Charlie, the bellboy, among others.
A rediscovered "poverty row" mystery that enjoyed frequent revivals during the early years of cable television in the 1980s, "The Death Kiss" recently has been restored with hand-tinted red color sequences used in parts with studio lights and gun shots, but otherwise a routinely old-fashioned mystery from the short-lived Tiffany Studios and not by Universal. A public domain title, "The Death Kiss" has been available on video cassette by numerous distributors in the 1980s. Currently, the best clear and sounding print can be found on both restored video copies and/or from Turner Classic Movies where it airs in October in honor of Halloween.
Although the storyline can be confusing at times, with director Edwin L. Marin continuing to play tricks on his movie audience (as with his opening scene and movie title) by keeping them guessing, with the "comedy relief" turning out not to be all that amusing, "The Death Kiss" in turn is a likable little time filler from the bygone days of Hollywood.(*1/2)
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