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With: James Cagney, Barbara Payton, Helena Carter, Ward Bond, Luther Adler, Barton MacLane, Steve Brodie, Rhys Williams, Herbert Heyes, John Litel, William Frawley, Robert Karnes, Kenneth Tobey, Dan Riss, Frank Reicher
Written by: Harry Brown, based on a novel by Horace McCoy
Directed by: Gordon Douglas
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 102
Date: 08/04/1950

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Black Heat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following White Heat (1949), which was one of James Cagney's signature roles, he took on another gangster pic with Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. But whereas White Heat director Raoul Walsh was one of the top action directors in Hollywood, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye director Gordon Douglas was more of a maker of ramshackle "B" movies (his best-known, best-loved credit is still the giant ant movie, Them!). And so, in essence, just about everyone who ever saw Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye responded the same: it's no White Heat. True, but it's still a cool movie.

Based on a novel by Horace McCoy, the movie tells the story of Ralph Cotter (Cagney), a devilish fellow who escapes from prison, and shoots down a fellow escapee who proves too slow. Making it out, Cotter immediately meets the dead man's beautiful sister Holiday Carleton (Barbara Payton), who is distraught over the shooting of her brother, though Cotter tells her that the guards were responsible.

He moves in with her and quickly figures out an angle to start pulling in money. However, a crooked police inspector, Charles Weber (Ward Bond), catches up with him, demands a cut, and tries to run Cotter out of town. Cotter cooks up a blackmail scheme of his own, and follows it with a huge payroll heist. But trouble comes when he becomes interested in another beautiful girl, Margaret Dobson (Helena Carter), whose father is an ultra-powerful businessman.

What sets this movie apart is an amazing collection of colorful supporting characters, from a wise auto mechanic to a slightly sleazy lawyer and a reformed crook who gives lectures on the fourth dimension! The movie doesn't seem to mind one way or another how truly damaged or irredeemable these people are. It's very refreshing. For example, Cotter's new girlfriend only likes him because she's a strong-spirited girl and he's the first man she's met who can control her! Cotter himself is practically insane, capable of incredible politeness, but equally capable of turning on someone like a mad dog.

Cagney is incredible here. The graceful, yet powerful way he moves -- and the way he commands a room -- is awe-inspiring. His brother William Cagney produced the movie, and appears briefly as Cotter's brother at the end of the movie. But the really interesting story here belongs to the gorgeous blond bombshell Payton. Her real-life story would make a hell of a documentary or even a feature film.

She was married four times, had a series of celebrity affairs (including Howard Hughes), and was quite often seen partying and drinking in public. Two actors, Tom Neal and Franchot Tone, got into a huge fight over her, resulting in Tone being hospitalized. Watching her in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, you can see the kind of power she must have held over men. But a life of excess led to extreme decline. She ended up an alcoholic, writing bad checks, and more. She died at age 39.

Back to Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. It's a very dark film, passed off as a thrilling entertainment. Perhaps it was Douglas and his skill at directing exploitation material that keeps the movie feeling so lively, without ignoring the dark undercurrent. It could have been a "grindhouse" movie. At the very least, Cagney fans must see it. At most, anyone who loves to see how far movies can go must see it.

Olive Films has released it on new DVD and Blu-ray editions, made from a newly restored print. The discs have no extras.

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