Based in part on a true story, Kiss of Death is given a veneer of reality by being filmed on location in New York, per the insistence of director Henry Hathaway..Victor Mature plays Nick Bianco, a cheap crook who commits a Christmastime jewelry store heist with his gang, and manages to get the rap while the others slip by the police unnoticed. Nick refuses to testify on the others, and gets sent up the river for 20 years for robbery. Before he goes to prison, he's assured by the criminal element that his wife and children will be taken care of while he's behind bars (thanks in no small part to his refusal to testify), but this is a blatant lie: during his incarceration, he learns that the family has gone broke, his wife committed suicide and his children have been sent to an orphanage. Furious, Nick summons district attorney Louie d'Angelo (Brian Donlevy) and makes an unusual deal: parole, in exchange for his willingness to squeal on the others. Louie expresses particularly strong interest in nabbing sadistic mob torpedo Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark, in his chilling screen debut), and helps secure Nick's release with the understanding that Nick will ingratiate himself with Tommy. This he does, spending inordinate amounts of time with the psychopath and earning the man's trust. Meanwhile, Nick also falls in love with Nettie (Colleen Gray), marries her, and regains custody of his two young daughters. The family moves to a small house together (with Nick living under an assumed name), but Louie realizes that his cover will soon be blown. To make matters even more complicated, Louie soon comes calling and pressures Nick into testifying against Tommy. Nick hesitates, given his concern that Tommy will come after him as soon as police surveillance lifts. Moreover, Tommy has a few nasty tricks of his own, however, and vows to make life as difficult as possible for Nick. This is the film in which Widmark's character gigglingly pushes a wheelchair-bound old lady down a flight of stairs. Reviewer James Agee said it best: "You feel that murder is the kindest thing he is capable of". The film made Widmark a star--and also convinced him to start lobbying immediately for good-guy roles so that he wouldn't be typecast as maniacal killers for life. Kiss of Death was remade as the 1958 western The Fiend Who Walked the West, then re-remade under its original title in 1994, with David Caruso in the Mature role and Nicolas Cage in the Widmark part, and the violence and nudity dramatically elevated to conform with the times.
by Hal Erickson synopsis