Originally, Patricia Morison played Victor Mature's wife, who is attacked and raped by a gangster who is supposed to be watching out for her while Mature is in prison, and afterwards commits suicide by sticking her head in the kitchen oven and turning on the gas. Both scenes were cut from the original print at the insistence of the censors, who wanted no depiction of either a rape or a suicide, so she does not appear in the film at all. Mention is made later in the film about Mature's wife's suicide and a now obscure reference is made by Nettie that the unseen gangster Rizzo contributed to the wife's downfall.
Because this was filmed on actual locations, a toilet is visible in Victor Mature's jail cell. The sight of toilets was generally banned in films until Alfred Hitchcock managed to break the taboo with Psycho (1960).
When New York mobster Joe Gallo--a vicious killer known as "Crazy Joe"--was starting out as a small-time hoodlum, he saw this movie and instantly idolized Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). Afterwards, Gallo began wearing his suits with black shirts and white ties in emulation of Udo. He also began acting in a more crazed manner, thus giving rise to his "Crazy Joe" persona, which lasted until the gangster's death in 1972, when he was murdered by rival gangsters in Umberto's Clam House in Little Italy.
According to Richard Widmark, he only worked 13 days on the picture but had to go out to California for three or four days when a new ending was shot because Patricia Morison's character--Nick's wife--was cut out.
Henry Hathaway wasn't happy with the choice of Richard Widmark as the villain and wanted him removed from the picture. When Darryl F. Zanuck overruled him, he tried to make the shoot as uncomfortable for Widmark as possible. Widmark decided this wasn't for him and decided to quit one lunchtime. Hathaway persuaded him to stay and they completed the movie with a new respect for each other. They would go on to make another five movies together and Widmark was pallbearer at Hathaway's funeral.
According to Richard Widmark, there were pads on the bottom of the stairs during Mildred Dunnock's scene as well as men to catch her, but the cameraman forgot to rack the film and the scene had to be shot a second time.
In the beginning montage shots of New York City, a movie theater in Times Square displays a huge ad for Jeanette MacDonald in The Love Parade (1929). This particular shot was taken at some point from mid-Nov 1929 to Jan 1930, over 17 years before "Kiss of Death" was produced.
According to Richard Widmark, director Henry Hathaway disliked his high hairline because he thought it made him look too intellectual, so he ordered Widmark fitted for a hairpiece. Hathaway didn't send the test ahead to studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck because he wanted a nightclub piano player called "Harry the Hipster" to play Udo. A Fox production manager named Charlie Hill liked the test and sent it to Zanuck, who immediately signed Widmark.
The background musical theme at the start and finish of the film is Alfred Newman's "Street Scene," which 20th Century-Fox frequently used for dramas set in New York (Newman was one of their house composers).
The most famous scene in" Kiss of Death " is when a grinning, maniacal Richard Widmark shoves Mildred Dunnock down the stairs to her doom in her wheelchair. Due to the shocking nature of this clip, the British censor insisted on its removal for the UK release. Imagine then how surprised viewers were when it was shown in its entirety on a history of 20th Century Fox tribute show which aired on BBC2 on the Christmas schedule of 1974!
D'Angelo, the D.A. portrayed by Brian Donlevy, bears a curious physical resemblance to former D.A. Thomas E Dewey. Dewey would run a second unsuccessful campaign for President in the year following this film's release.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Originally, Nick (Victor Mature) was supposed to die after he allowed Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) to shoot him repeatedly, so Udo could be prosecuted for his murder. However, it was decided that it was too depressing to have Nick die, so in the narration by Nick's wife, Nettie, she says that Nick survives.