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Harold J. Stone,
In 1700, news that the king of Spain is dying comes to the Spanish outpost in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For some reason, lovely Princess Lucia, the preferred heir, is in this remote location. To get her back to Europe without running afoul of the Viceroy of Mexico (who backs another heir) will require a guide friendly with the Indians: outlaw El Tigre, whom the princess (initially) despises. The highly hazardous journey is made more so by presence of turncoats in the group... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
This half-western, half-costumer follows what might be called the "escort" formula. In this formula a person of some importance, often a woman, is escorted through difficult territory toward a destination which must be reached by a certain deadline. Various enemies along the way try to thwart this effort, and there usually turns out to be a covert traitor within the ranks of the escort-party. In most cases the leader of this party is a rough-edged man of action who resents his assignment but who is determined to carry it out successfully. If he's escorting a woman, there's usually a high degree of friction between the two which gradually turns into a romance. The destination is finally reached on time after much tribulation and the man of action and his beautiful charge embrace and kiss as "The End" appears on the screen.
"Kiss of Fire" sets this formula in the year 1700 and it follows the course of an expedition from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Monterey, California. This affords an opportunity for a number of outdoor episodes set against scenic backgrounds which alternate with a score of more intimate moments filmed inside studio sets. None of this comes across as realistic but the color photography, costumes, and always-attractive cast members provide the kind of escapism which has always made the movies so appealing.
Where "Kiss of Fire" differs from the usual formula, and then ever so slightly, lies in the choice of its leading man. At this point in his career, Jack Palance had become best known as a villain -- particularly because of his work as the heartless gunfighter in "Shane" -- and casting him as the-man-who-gets-the-girl must have seemed like a daring choice. This is even more apparent when young, handsome Rex Reason, whom Universal was grooming for stardom, appeared in the same cast. Why not have Rex get the girl?
Movie heroines often find themselves torn between a suave, wealthy, well-dressed suitor on one hand and a rough-and-tumble rebel on the other. "Kiss of Fire" falls into this pattern but, throughout most of its length, tends to hedge its bets. Often the suave suitor, (in this case Rex Reason), is shown to the audience as being shallow and opportunistic -- traits which the heroine does not initially recognize. However, Rex seems immune to these faults until the last reel when his character takes a sudden turn for the worse and thus proves unworthy of winning Barbara Rush. Instead he's quickly and all-too-conveniently paired with second-billed Martha Hyer whose character, up to this point, had never shown much romantic interest in him. Meanwhile aristocratic Barbara Rush abandons her trip to claim the throne of Spain and implausibly chooses to settle down in California with an unpolished frontiersman who lives in Indian villages.
One suspects that Universal had doubts about audiences accepting Jack Palance as a leading man and perhaps tested "Kiss of Fire" at a number of "sneak previews." Had these previews not gone well, Universal may have planned to re-edit the last reel of the movie so that Barbara Rush would tearfully part from Jack Palance -- "We come from different worlds" -- and then board that boat for Spain on the arm of the stalwart Rex Reason. After all, it wouldn't take much editing to rehabilitate Rex into the kind of lover worthy of the heroine's affections.
One final note. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for a movie such as "Kiss of Fire" to be made today? No studio now would touch a project set in Spanish-America, circa 1700, unless a director with great clout and a star with proven, world-wide boxoffice appeal were attached to the project. But back in 1955, movies like this with colorful historical backgrounds were turned out all the time, making the movies a far richer medium than they are today.
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