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18 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

James Whale courtroom drama about infidelity.

6/10
Author: marc from United States
6 September 1999

This racy pre code courtroom drama is not very good,but it is well acted by a good cast. Frank Morgan plays a Viennese lawyer who defends his friend, Paul Lukas, who has murdered his wife played by an absolutely beautiful, Gloria Stuart(who has a brief,surprising nude scene-we see her back as she strips).Morgan finds himself suspecting his own wife, played by Nancy Carroll,of infidelity. The film is wonderfully photographed and does a good job showing us the life of these wealthy Austrians.The boyfriend,played by an early Walter Pidgeon,is shown in the opening scene in a magnificent home which is sumptuously decorated.The visual style as in many Whale movies is striking.Unfortunately,the original play that this is based on,seems unbelievable and rather florid, although the infidelity elements are not that dissimilar from Kubricks,Eyes Wide Shut, also based on a Viennese original.

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9 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

A Strange Tale of Infidelity

7/10
Author: Bucs1960 from West Virginia
27 April 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you only know Frank Morgan for the Wizard of Oz and his other comedic roles of the 30s and 40s, then you don't want to miss his performance here. It's an entirely different Morgan, as the love besotted lawyer married to Nancy Carroll,and defending his best friend Paul Lukas who is accused of murder. I had to look twice to be sure it was him and not his brother Ralph who might have been more at home in this type of role. It's hard to relate to Frank Morgan in a torrid embrace with Carroll who is the nominal star of the film. But that aside, he is rather attractive and does a pretty good job even though the film has the typical over-acting of the early talkies.

Gloria Stuart, in an all too short appearance, is simply gorgeous (why don't they make clothes like that anymore?) as the erring wife of Paul Lukas, and lover of Walter Pigeon (in a very small role). Lukas puts three bullets into her and the murder trial is on with Morgan as the defense lawyer. He uses the "unwritten law" defense and his client is acquitted. As all this is happening, Morgan discovers that his own wife, Carroll, is having an affair with Donald Cook (good grief!!) When Morgan learns of it, he contemplates putting a few of his own bullets into her and using the same defense at his own trial. But reason wins out and he abandons the plan Since this is a pre-code film, Carroll is forgiven, falls into Morgan's arms, and doesn't have to pay for her sins, as she would have in Code films beginning the following year.

If you can get past the sometimes hammy acting styles and the "dearest" and "darling" dialogue, this isn't a bad film. In fact, I rather enjoyed it but then I am a sucker for films of the early 30s.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

This one sure is different.

7/10
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
4 May 2009

This film begins with a husband following his wife to a rendezvous with her lover. There, he savagely kills her with a revolver--shooting her repeatedly as she fell to the ground. The husband, Paul Lukas, immediately phones the police to turn himself in for murder. However, his lawyer (Frank Morgan) works hard for his acquittal or a lenient sentence, since the husband was driven to this by his wife's behavior. Morgan's insistence of Lukas' innocence is important, since Morgan himself realizes his wife is also committing adultery and proving Lukas' innocence is, in a way, vindication for Morgan if he, too, decides to kill his wife.

As for Morgan, his performance is quite atypical. Instead of the usual nice guy or comical figure, here he plays a highly emotional and almost unhinged man. He's a bit over the top in his acting, but his melodramatic behavior is fun to watch.

The film was directed by James Whale--the same man who directed Boris Karloff and Colin Clive in the first two of Universal's Frankenstein movies. Like these films, THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR is notable for having many quiet moments where there is no incidental music. This is important because it adds to the tension and drama--producing a stark but intense film. Additionally, the film manages to do a lot in only a little over an hour--a sign of excellent direction. The only negative is that the final scene with Morgan's wife is a bit too melodramatic--too shrill to be realistic.

Overall, rather entertaining and different.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A rare James Whale shocker

8/10
Author: David (Handlinghandel) from NY, NY
13 July 2009

This is not a horror movie. James Whale is best known for those. (His 1936 "Showboat," on the other hand is my absolute favorite movie musical, bar none.) This one is a brief but insightful character study.

Frank Morgan plays a famous lawyer engrossed in a murder case. He finds himself identifying with the jealous husband of a beautiful woman.

He identifies a little too strongly. He begins to see in his own wife the behavior of his client's wife.

Morgan's wife is played by one of the most charming of early movie actresses: Nancy Carroll. I've seen her primarily in light comedy, where she is absolutely charming. She has a quirkiness that resembles that of Janet Gaynor. And she physically resembles the ultra-sexy Clara Bow.

Her career was short, apparently by her own choice. This is one of her best roles. And, though it's atypical and little known, it's a very fine example of James Whale's masterful touch.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Sight, insight.

Author: tedg (tedg@filmsfolded.com) from Virginia Beach
28 July 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We used to have such a thing as a courtroom movie. The lawyer — usually the lawyer for the defense — would make a presentation designed to affect us while it affects then, often in the same way. Think Atticus Finch. These projects revolve around a central courtroom event, usually a dramatic speech, delivered theatrically.

The setup here is unusual. A man has followed his young wife as she meets her lover. As she disrobes prior to having sex, he shoots and kills her. He then calls the police and confesses. His best friend is a lawyer, determined to get him off. In finding out what happened, the murderer tells how he discovered his wife was having an affair. He is watching her lovingly; she is preparing her hair and face in front of a mirror, wearing a new dress. He cannot control himself; comes and kisses her. She violently pushes him away because he has undone her work. At this point, he knows the preparations are for someone else.

Meanwhile, we discover that the lawyer also loves his wife. He repeats the same exercise, of the kiss in the mirror and to his horror discovers the same effect. His wife is having an affair, which he confirms by following.

Now the setup is that he decides that if he can make a case strong enough to get his friend released, he will murder his wife based on the same justification. This is not because of fear of prosecution, but internal justification. His friend is against it. The lawyer has two assistants; a woman who is carefully blending her womanness with her professional intellectualism and an older guy, an alcoholic who is frustrated that no one ever listens to his pronouncements on life.

Our lawyer does indeed give the speech of a lifetime in the courtroom. It is effective enough for the jury to dismiss the charges, though we cannot fathom why other than a combination of "she deserved it" and the opinion a man's love can be so intense that it transcends reason and the law. During his courtroom speech, he pulls out a gun and says that he would do the same thing, at which point his wife knows she has been found out. Subsequently she offers herself to be killed. You may notice she has some power over what happens when she says that he never loved her as much as the friend loved his wife.

This, or perhaps general fear mean that he does not go through with it, and soon they are kissing in front of the mirror.

The misogynist drivers in this thing are pretty hard to take. But the subtle structure is pretty good. It is built around the notion of actions and circumstances that allow you to see yourself and what you do. The filmmaker is James Whale and if you allow the crass assumptions and the childish mirror metaphor, this is a wonderful piece of visual storytelling. The American invention of noir is often supposed to have been most strongly influenced by so-called German expressionism. But look here for more profound control over the camera and the light — and integration of visual effect with the narrative, such as it is.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A very Macabre Murder Trial Movie

9/10
Author: Jay Raskin from Orlando, United States
9 August 2016

The only other James Whale movie that I have seen, except for his classics, "Frankenstein," "Bride of Frankenstein" and "Invisible Man," was "the Old Dark House." I liked "the Old Dark House," but it wasn't a masterpiece like the other three.

I have never seen "Wizard of Oz" title character Frank Morgan in a leading role, so I always assumed he was a character actor, but he easily carries the film in this case. His wife is played by Nancy Carroll who starred in some 35 films from 1928 to 1935. She is quite fine. Gloria Stuart, famous for the Titanic (1997) has appears briefly in the film. Jean Dixon, as a very sharp statuesque woman lawyer nearly steals the picture with a sharp sense of humor.

The movie is about obsession, love and murder. Whale does a wonderful job of balancing comedy with tense scary moments as he did in "Bride" and "Invisible Man." The movie is very humanist and really solidifies the idea of him being a great auteur director. There's an hilarious scene of two gay newspaper men commenting on the trial. The movie is tight and short, barely over an hour, so it can't be called a masterpiece, but it does manage a lot of emotional intensity for a film of this length and this time period.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Lawyer Frank Morgan follows in the footsteps of his murderer-client, Paul Lukas

6/10
Author: msroz from United States
25 December 2014

Wealthy Gloria Stuart, the wife of Paul Lukas, is having a love affair with Walter Pidgeon. The movie opens with a tryst between them in his gorgeous art deco mansion. It's worth seeing this movie if only to see the beauty of the rich interior sets. Flowers abound. But she has given herself away by her reaction to Lukas as she prettied herself up before her mirror. He has followed her. He is coming through an exterior landscape borrowed from "Frankenstein". He shoots her three times through a garden window, and then calls the police to report his crime. He is a broken man. The story is not a mystery. It is a crime melodrama.

Lukas's friend, Frank Morgan, becomes his lawyer. He extracts from Lukas the story of the mirror incident. This is crucial because Morgan experiences a similar occurrence when his wife, Nancy Carroll, reacts angrily to his advances as she prepares to meet her lover, Donald Cook.

The cast is strong in this unusual story, the acting being in the style of that time, which for the most part does not hinder our enjoyment today. Will we be able to say the same of today's styles 80 years from now? Good support from Charles Grapewin and Jean Dixon as assistants to Morgan. The direction and photography produce quite a high degree of intensity, suspense and moodiness. Morgan drives the story forward as he questions Lukas intently and then suspects his own wife. His defense summary to the jury carries a heavily ironic edge, being almost as much for his own contemplated actions as those of Lukas. Lukas is a highly emotional and torn man, but not without the capacity to see where Morgan might be headed. Carroll is very nervous to think that Morgan knows and may turn violent.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR (James Whale, 1933) ***

7/10
Author: MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) from Naxxar, Malta
17 February 2011

Though Universal had acquired prestige with the Oscar-winning ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930), it was still not regarded as a major studio at the time; consequently, most of their productions were allotted a B-movie budget and barely lasted over an hour and a quarter (this one, in fact, clocks in at 68 minutes) – even those made by their top director of the era, Whale! In fact, this one is partly filmed on the memorable Expressionist sets from his first great success FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – notably the forest, laboratory and university auditorium, converted here to a private garden, prison cell and courtroom – which lends the whole added texture and renders it fascinating viewing for horror buffs!

Even so, this proves a melodrama with a uniquely tense and compelling premise: a lawyer defending his best friend, accused of killing his faithless wife, begins to suspect that his own spouse is cheating on him – so that his impassioned (and sensationalistic) speech, tinged with personal angst, results in the acquittal of the murderer! Marked by elaborate camera-work (courtesy of the renowned Karl Freund), the film also features constant mirror imagery (playing on the all-important theme of duplicity). The acting often resorts to histrionics (Paul Lukas, in his first of 3 roles for the director, as the defendant virtually spends the whole trial with face buried in his hands!) but is nonetheless impressive – especially Frank Morgan's protagonist lawyer, since he is mostly known for befuddled comedy roles!; also on hand are Gloria Stuart (appearing as the murder victim and, thus, killed off in the very first scene!: she also worked 3 times with Whale, including 2 of his horror classics), Walter Pidgeon (an early role as her lover) and Charley Grapewin (as Morgan's assistant, who is something of a frustrated philosopher!).

Interestingly, Whale felt he could improve upon the film and remade it just 5 years later as WIVES UNDER SUSPICION (in which Morgan's brother Ralph played the accused!); however, though I recall liking it quite a bit when I watched it 5 years ago {sic}, I feel this is the superior version (if still some way behind his seminal horror work)...since, by then, the director's career was already in decline and, so, the resources were even more meager!

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"Would you come over and arrest me? I just killed my wife!"

9/10
Author: mark.waltz from United States
16 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The murdered woman is played by Gloria Stuart, best known as "old Rose" in the 1997 smash "Titanic", fresh from a series of classic horror movies, and as a favor to the now legendary James Whale, playing the unfaithful wife of Paul Lukas. Catching her with her lover Walter Pidgeon, Lukas offs both and quickly confesses. His defense attorney is a non-blithering Frank Morgan, as far from being the Wizard of Oz as he can be. Morgan defends Lukas with great care, learning what set Lukas off was "the kiss before the mirror", a metaphor for women's vanity that made Lukas both love her and despise her.

Years ago when I first began collecting rare classics, one of my trading buddies highly recommended this, insisting on getting me a copy in no uncertain terms, and seeing it again some 20 years later, I can see why. This film is a masterpiece of suspense and style, masterfully put on celluloid by James Whale who certainly deserves to be better known as an artist rather than just a director of horror films. The wise script draws you in almost immediately, and for attorney Morgan is a look into the future as he learns that his distractions by the case has lead his wife (Nancy Carroll) into the arms of another man (Donald Cook).

Future "Wizard of Oz" co-star Charley Grapewin joins Morgan in a showy minor role as Morgan's outspoken butler. Carroll, one of the great (although almost forgotten) stars of the early talkies, is more than just another gorgeous clotheshorse. In fact, she's exquisite, with sumptuous photography on her as she stares into the mirror. Whale, the Josef Von Sternberg of Universal studios, took filmmaking to the point of being pure art, directing his actors with great fitness, making them subtle one moment and dramatic and filled with fury out of nowhere. The metaphor of the mirror is a powerful one, and this is a film that really deserves an art house rediscovery. "Wives Under Suspicion", a decent remake also directed by Whale, lacks the finesse of this version, but being in the public domain, is easier to find.

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James Whale and Gloria Stuart

7/10
Author: kevin olzak (kevinolzak@yahoo.com) from Youngstown, Ohio
1 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

James Whale's "The Kiss Before the Mirror" (1933) came in between "The Old Dark House" and "The Invisible Man," all three of which feature the lovely actress Gloria Stuart, chiefly remembered by today's audiences for her award-winning performance at age 86 in 1997's "Titanic." For those who dismiss her early film work in weepy heroine parts (such as "The Prisoner of Shark Island"), this role is quite a revealing eye-opener; a sensuous performance as Lucy Bernsdorf, married to wealthy doctor Walter (Paul Lukas), but possessing a younger lover (Walter Pidgeon). Playful, kittenish, exquisitely dressed, well coiffured, a luscious sight to behold, is it any wonder how any man could resist? We watch as Lucy removes her dress, revealing her nude silhouette through the window, completely unaware that her husband has followed her, roused by her 'kiss before the mirror,' knowing that her careful primping is not on his behalf. Walter takes out his revolver, shoots her dead (three times), then immediately phones the police to confess his guilt. Luckily, Walter's best friend is attorney Paul Hold (Frank Morgan), who prepares a stirring defense for his client, listens to his description of how he discovered the truth about his faithless wife, then goes home to his beautiful wife (top billed Nancy Carroll), who displays the very same reaction to his own 'kiss before the mirror.' Cast against type, Morgan is surprisingly good, as is the Hungarian Lukas, soon reunited with Gloria Stuart in "Secret of the Blue Room," and with James Whale for "By Candlelight." With a supporting cast that includes Donald Cook (as Nancy Carroll's lover), Jean Dixon and Charley Grapewin (both part of Morgan's team), nothing can top the unforgettable nude image of the lustrous Gloria Stuart, in an all-too-rare change of pace not surprising from director Whale, who previously presented her in a similar light in "The Old Dark House." Add to that sets already familiar from "Frankenstein," and you have a fascinating pre-code drama that must surely rank as superior to Whale's 1938 remake "Wives Under Suspicion" (which this author admits never to have seen).

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