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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 <email@example.com>
A Fun Mystery With a Very Effective Early Technical Gimmick
"The Death Kiss" (1933) should be a nice surprise for those who like traditional murder mysteries. It's a movie within a movie and both have the same title, which refers to the on- screen murder of movie star Myles Brent during the filming of the last scene of a film called the "The Death Kiss". He is shot while playing a scene in which he is shot, a development that was about to be written off by the police as a prop man's accident until they discovered that the bullet was a different caliber than the guns being used in the production.
The police then turn their attentions to his co-star and ex-wife Marsha Lane (Andienne Ames) which inspires her boyfriend (David Manners) to do some amateur sleuthing to track down the real murderer.
"The Death Kiss" could qualify as the first buddy picture as he is closely assisted by his friend Officer 'Gully' Gulliver (Vince Barnett), a bumbling studio security guard who provides the film's comic relief. The mix of serious murder mystery and comedy is in perfect proportion and Barnett gives a truly exceptional performance. Much of the humor comes from the pair's ability to stay just ahead of the police, much to the irritation of the detectives doing the investigation and to the crowing delight of Gully.
There are an array of suspects (Brent would not have won a popularity contest) besides Miss Lane including studio executives Joseph Steiner (Bela Lugosi), Leon Grossman (Alexander Carr) and Tom Avery (Edward Van Sloan). Lugosi's name and likeness headline the DVD package and while his part is substantial, it is still just that of a supporting character.
There are enough red herrings to keep the viewer guessing and the pacing is quite fast even with limited action sequences. There are significant advantages associated with setting a screenplay in a movie studio. The cost savings in set design, the appeal of the movie industry to viewers, and the fact that the writer can draw upon occupations with which he is familiar to give the script convincing authenticity.
One thing to watch for is the use of color in a few sequences in this otherwise black and white film. When there is a fire in the projection booth and later a chase scene with flashlights, the producers enhanced the effect with an amber tint. This was applied to the prints (at least some of them) by stencils, which masked the majority of the frame so artists could color in the portion that was to be amber. Since there are 24 frames per second it was only necessary to apply this process to every other or every third frame to get the effect, but it was still an extremely labor-intensive process. "The Death Kiss" was not the first time this was done but it was the most effective because the cinematography made excellent use of light and shadow, with the contrast nicely enhancing the effect of the amber frames. Technically this gimmick was a forerunner of stuff like "Smell-o-vision", "Emergo", "Illusion- o", and "Sensurround".
The DVD and TMC prints are serviceable but obviously worse for the wear. There are a number of audio and video dropouts but the story seems to be complete.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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