Myles Brent is hard at work on his latest film as leading man, a gangster flick called The Death Kiss. In the final scene of the film, his character gets shot… and while filming the scene, Brent himself is literally shot and killed.
Brent was known for his talents on the big screen, but also had a reputation as a womanizer. He was fooling around with a lot of the women who worked at the studio where he was under contract, and he had been married multiple times.
With such a complicated romantic history, plenty of people could easily have motive to want Brent dead, and they all become suspects.
Marcia Lane (Adrienne Ames), the leading lady of The Death Kiss, is soon accused of the killing… but she’s not the culprit. She’s Brent’s ex-wife and her name is still listed on his life insurance policy, so she’s got motive, but she didn’t have a gun at the time of the shooting. Marcia’s boyfriend Franklyn (David Manners), who is a writer at the studio, decides to conduct an investigation of his own in order to prove his lady-friend’s innocence.
Edwin L. Marin directs 1932’s The Death Kiss. Bela Lugosi appears alongside David Manners and Adrienne Ames as a studio executive, and Vince Barnett co-stars as a dim-witted police buddy of Franklyn who helps him investigate.
The Death Kiss appears in Mill Creek’s “50 Movies: Mystery Classics” set. The quality is average for a public domain flick — some fuzz to the picture, but nothing too extreme, and the sound quality is pretty good.
The opening of this film is very clever. We’re shown Brent in character, filming the scene in which he will die, but we see none of the cameras or other equipment until after the shots are fired. The crew begins setting up for the next take and the director shouts instructions for improvement at Brent, only to realize he isn’t answering… and isn’t alive.
This opening is undoubtedly one of the the strongest scenes of the film (along with a shootout conducted in near-total darkness a few minutes before the film’s end), but fans of traditional whodunits will enjoy The Death Kiss throughout its 70-minute run time. (The original run time was about 75 minutes, so there area few minutes lost in the Mill Creek print, unfortunately.) There are so many plausible suspects and red herrings that the film truly keeps the viewer guessing who will turn out to be guilty. A couple other bodies turn up, too.
Horror fans might enjoy this film as well, for the opportunity to see the stars of classic ’30s spine-tinglers in a completely different type of story. Lugosi and Manners shared the screen in Dracula, and also appearing in both films is Edward Van Sloan.
Personally, I found this sleuth-y flick to be great fun. There’s some wit to the script, and it also did a great job of misleading me. Every time I thought I’d figured out who shot Brent, I was dead wrong (no pun intended). The pace is pretty brisk, and the Manners/Barnett “buddy cop” pairing effectively keeps the viewer entertained through both comedy and mystery. My only complaint is that Bela Lugosi’s talents are under-utilized in his supporting role. The score: 4/5