Combustible Celluloid
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With: David Manners, Adrienne Ames, Bela Lugosi, John Wray, Vince Barnett, Alexander Carr, Edward Van Sloan, Harold Minjir, Barbara Bedford, Al Hill, Harold Waldridge, Wade Boteler, Lee Moran
Written by: Gordon Kahn, Barry Barringer, based on a book by Madelon St. Dennis
Directed by: Edwin L. Marin
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 71
Date: 10/24/2014

The Death Kiss (1932)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Movie Murders

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Death Kiss was released a year after Tod Browning's Dracula and featured three of the stars from that hit, including Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi. But it's not a horror film, and Lugosi has a relatively small part. It wouldn't be surprising if anyone who saw The Death Kiss, even today, would be disappointed. But the good news is that it's a really cool, very interesting murder mystery.

It begins with a striking sequence, a long shot that culminates in a murder. The camera swings around to reveal that it was all a movie being filmed. Unfortunately the victim was actually killed. A screenwriter who fancies himself an amateur sleuth (David Manners, who was Jonathan Harker in Dracula) attempts to solve the case, pinpointing the killer from among those on the set at the time. The case grows more and more complex as the killer sets out several red herrings.

The movie is only 71 minutes long, and director Edwin L. Marin (A Christmas Carol, Invisible Agent) keeps things moving at a decent clip without ever losing momentum or muddling the facts. Best of all, this poverty-row feature was actually filmed at a real movie studio, and it's fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes of the time. Lugosi plays a producer, and the other Dracula star, Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing), plays a director.

Kino Lobber released this public domain movie in a new high-def Blu-ray transfer. It claims to be a new 35mm restoration, and it looks decent, though scratches and things are still evident. Film historian Richard Harlan Smith provides a commentary track, with tons of biographical and historical information.

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