The Death Kiss

Sometimes a kiss can kill.  Murder and suspense rock a Hollywood movie set as leading man Miles Brent is shot dead by a real bullet while filming the final scene for The Death Kiss.  As news spreads about the tragedy that has just unfolded, the producers and studio executives of Tonart Studios appear more worried about their investment and how to complete the picture than the death of one of their colleagues.   

Studio screenwriter Franklyn Drew puts his mystery crafting skills to work, first discovering that the shooting wasn’t an accident and eventually cracking the case.  During his investigation, he continually butts heads with the real detective assigned to the case. 

Between the jaded studio execs, the audacious screenwriter, a clownish security guard, a temperamental director and a flustered detective who always seems to be a step or two behind in the investigation, the film is full of humor and works satirically as an early send up of the Hollywood movie industry.

Bela Lugosi stars as a cool-headed studio manager assigned to resolve the complicated situation to everyone’s satisfaction.  It’s interesting to see him play a character other than a creepy ghoul, and he does so skillfully, even as the role doesn’t give him a whole lot to work with.  

Filmed in 1932 and clocking in at a little over an hour long, this pre-code mystery provides plenty of entertainment.  Something to love about these early pictures are the occasional strange shots and conspicuous cuts.  These movies were made at a time before filmmakers had developed what would come to be known as Hollywood’s ‘invisible style.’  

In the movies closing scenes, Drew attempts to discreetly explain to the detective how the murder went down.  But, in a somewhat awkward shot, a hot mic picks up their conversation and tips off the killer, spurring him to take drastic action.  Even if the sequence is initially a bit confusing, it’s quickly apparent what’s happening, and the meandering camerawork delivers a clever plot twist.  These seemingly strange shots call attention to the fact that you are watching a film, which in this instance adds yet another layer to the film about a murder that’s about a film about a murder.