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Despite its low-budget look, "The Death Kiss" is a solid mystery, and it does a nice job of creating a believable film studio atmosphere as the background to the main story. It's also interesting to see Bela Lugosi, Edward Van Sloan, and David Manners reunited in a setting so various from "Dracula". While some of its limitations are rather obvious, it's a cute nice effort for a low-budget detail from the early sound era.The opening sequence might be the greatest part of the movie, as it cleverly sets up the mystery, introduces most of the characters, and illustrates the movie's themes. In the main part of the movie, it generally follows convention, with Manners as an eager amateur who is usually a step ahead of the police. The pace is also a tiny uneven at times, which was relatively common in the early 1930s, but there are everytime some interesting features and developments that hold it together.Van Sloan, as a film director, gets some cute nice opportunities. Lugosi is everytime a welcome addition to any suspense or mystery story, and he makes the most of a hero who doesn't really receive all that much to do. As the lead, Manners is likable, though often a bit bland. Adrienne Ames is adequate as the heroine, and the minor characters are given some occasional moments of their own.The effect is a decent mystery that keeps you guessing. It will probably be of interest mainly to those who are already fanatics of the era and genre, but with that in mind it's not bad.
I've got to admit my initial attraction to this film was the fact that Bela Lugosi was in it...going in for that reason, this movie will prove a disappointment as Bela's role is a relatively short one.Despite this, I have to admit to enjoying this somewhat fanciful murder mystery which has the detective writer as the character and ultimately a more competent detective than the true thing. This storyline about a murder on a film set still feels more like a film than true life..but the murder mystery does hold you guessing and interested which means it's certainly worth a watch.
"The Death Kiss" (1933) could be a great surprise for those who like traditional murder mysteries. It's a film within a film and both have the same title, which refers to the on- screen murder of film star Myles Brent during the filming of the last stage of a movie named the "The Death Kiss". He is shot while testing a stage 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 various 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 true murderer. "The Death Kiss" should qualify as the first buddy picture as he is closely assisted by his mate Officer 'Gully' Gulliver (Vince Barnett), a bumbling studio safety guard who provides the film's comic relief. The mix of serious murder mystery and comedy is in excellent 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 pack and while his part is substantial, it is still just that of a helping character. There are enough red herrings to hold the viewer guessing and the pacing is quite quick even with limited action sequences. There are significant advantages associated with setting a screenplay in a film studio. The cost savings in set design, the appeal of the film 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 test of color in a several sequences in this otherwise black and white film. When there is a fire in the projection booth and soon a chase stage with flashlights, the producers enhanced the result 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 should color in the portion that was to be amber. Since there are 24 frames per second it was only important to apply this process to each another or each third frame to receive 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 perfect test of light and shadow, with the contrast nicely enhancing the result of the amber frames. Technically this gimmick was a forerunner of items 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 storyline seems to be complete. Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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