Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nancy Carroll, Frank Morgan, Paul Lukas, Gloria Stuart, Jean Dixon, Donald Cook, Charley Grapewin, Walter Pidgeon, Wallis Clark, May Boley, Christian Rub, Reginald Mason
Written by: William Anthony McGuire, based on a play by Ladislas Fodor
Directed by: James Whale
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 69
Date: 05/04/1933

The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Reflecting Sin

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director James Whale is primarily known for his four great 1930s monster movies, but he made sixteen other movies that deserve exploring as well. One of the stranger ones is The Kiss Before the Mirror, a pre-code story of men murdering their cheating wives and getting away with it. Gloria Stuart (who also worked with Whale on two of the monster movies, The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man) is the first cheater, Lucy, whose husband, Dr. Walter Bernsdorf (Paul Lukas) kills her in the opening sequence. Then, Walter's friend, lawyer Paul Held (Frank Morgan, later the Wizard of Oz), agrees to defend him. But when Paul goes home, he sees his wife Maria (Nancy Carroll), putting on makeup and rebuffing his kisses. He begins to suspect that she, too, is having an affair, and also begins to entertain murderous fantasies. It's this that gives him the idea of how to defend Walter, and leading to the dramatic courtroom finale. This stuff is cuckoo, but Whale gives it his sophisticated, bemused touch, with plenty of gothic angles and sublime camera movements, even though it probably could have played up the camp a bit more. Australian film critic historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, whose specialty is gender politics, provides a most enlightening commentary track, viewing the film (which she likes) from a modern perspective, and singing the praises of the no-nonsense character of Hilda (Jean Dixon), who works with Paul and has no use for men or romance. Kino Lorber released the fine-looking 2021 Blu-ray.

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