Sunday, December 14, 2014

Blu-ray Review: ‘The Death Kiss’ (1932)

Movie: **** out of 5
Video: ** 1/2
Audio: **
Extras: **

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘The Death Kiss’ (1932) with Bela Lugosi, David Manners, and Edward Van Sloan’ on Blogcritics.

It’s nothing new these days for studios to cash in on the success of another film. It even dates back to the early days of film. There was a reason studios made actors, directors, writers, etc., sign multi-picture deals. After Universal Pictures’ successful Dracula adaptation, Tiffany Pictures decided they would cast the trio of Bela Lugosi (Dracula himself), David Manners (John Harker), and Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing) in something completely different. Instead of capitalizing on the creature feature angle, the three are dropped in the middle of a fantastic little murder mystery in The Death Kiss.

The Death Kiss, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan, Edwin L. MarinWhile filming a pivotal scene in the film-within-the-film The Death Kiss, star Myles Brent (Edmund Burns) is gunned down by a car of thugs, only to be shot with a real bullet. While no one on set is surprised that someone would want to kill Myles, everyone becomes a suspect and studio manager Joseph Steiner (Lugosi) is put in charge to help Detective Lieutenant Sheehan (John Wray) investigate. What looks like an accident at first becomes a clear case of murder after screenwriter Franklyn Drew (Manners) digs a bullet out of the set wall. Now, Sheehan must find the killer, with Drew leading the way with clues, in hopes of coming up with a new script. 

The Death Kiss comes out of the public domain courtesy Kino Classics touting a 35mm archival restoration and slapped with the Library of Congress label to boot. Fitting nicely on a 25GB disc and framed in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, when The Death Kiss looks good, it shines. Unfortunately, the audio and video come burdened with all the trappings of the usual anomalies consistent with public domain titles. Filled with scratches, hairs, dirt, fluctuating contrast, and missing frames, thankfully, not all is woe. At least it wasn’t run through the old DNR machine to try to scrub the image clean; otherwise, it may have felt like you were watching the whole film through cellophane.

Random color tinting pops up in some key scenes involving fire and flashlights, but considering the film doesn’t really deserve a frame-by-frame restoration, this looks really good all things considered. As for the audio, things don’t fare any better. Filled with all kinds of dropouts, fluctuations, and the standard hisses and pops, the 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds about how you’d expect in a film that’s over 80 years old. This is definitely a track you’re gonna have to crank up the volume to hear. As for the special features, a “Commentary by Richard Harlan Smith” is all we get, but at least he’s an expert on every aspect of the film. There’s also a trailer for Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie.

The Death Kiss is far from a forgotten masterpiece, but there’s something refreshing when you watch older films. Filled with some fun dialogue and a really funny “twist” at the end, director Edwin L. Marin at least shines a light on the behind-the-scenes functionality of a working studio. Featuring video and audio quality that’s as good as you can expect, The Death Kiss is worth a look for anyone interested in seeing what it means when someone says “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

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