Tuesday, April 18, 2006


This James Whale film, one of his last, is a remake of one of his earlier films, THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR, which I have not seen. This version, aside from some problems arising from a low production budget, is interesting and makes me want to see the original. Warren William is a bloodthirsty district attorney who keeps an abacus with little skulls on his desk to keep track of the number of people he's had sentenced to death. The opening sequence, nicely shot with lots of fluid camerawork, shows William in court at the top of his game, being threatened by the man he's just prosecuted (Matty Fain). William's wife (Gail Patrick) and secretary (Cecil Cunningham) want him to chill out and take some time off. He doesn't want to, but later, when he's shot at on the streets by Fain's cousin, he decides a nice family vacation might be in order. However, on the eve of his planned departure, a juicy murder case winds up in his lap: a rich college professor (Ralph Morgan) admits to killing his wife in a fit of jealousy, begun when he kissed his wife while she was in front of a mirror, and he caught a look in her eyes that told him she was cheating on him. William decides to stay and prosecute; he believes the man's confession but doesn't believe in crimes of passion, thinking them to be performed by weak, decadent men. Ironically, his own life begins to resemble that of Morgan: Patrick is growing upset with William's job obsession, rumors are published linking his wife to a young friend of the family (William Lundigan), and finally he sees the same "mirror" look in his wife's face that Morgan saw. William grabs a gun and seems headed down the same path as Morgan. Will he become aware of his behavior and will it give him empathy for Morgan, or will he wind up committing a crime of passion himself? The B-production values leave something to be desired, but there are several things here that make the picture worth seeing: William is good, as usual, and Morgan gives one of the best performances of his career, especially in the intense confession scene, shot mostly in one long take. Cunningham is fun, and the supporting cast includes Milburn Stone (looking a thousand years younger than he did as Doc on "Gunsmoke"), Samuel S. Hinds, and Lillian Yarbo. Whale's directorial touches are nice, with lots of shots looking down from on high. There is a dark noirish atmosphere which predates the establishment of the noir genre. Not as polished as it could be, but a rarity worth watching. [TCM]

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