“We won’t need a doctor George, he’s dead.”
While filming a scene of the movie “The Death Kiss”, the actor playing the star is actually shot and killed. Joseph Steiner (Bela Lugosi), the manager of the studio calls the police. Homicide Detective LT. Sheehan (John Wray) is now in charge of the scene. Not wanting bad publicity, the studio is anxious to call it an accident. Screenwriter Franklyn Drew (David Manners) digs a bullet out of a wall. He informs Sheehan that the guns used in the scene are all .45 caliber weapons, but the bullet that killed the actor is a .38.
The dead man has a letter in his pocket that he wrote to his lawyer concerning his co-star and ex-wife Marcia Lane (Adrienne Ames). He spoke of her refusal to sign a beneficiary release for his $200,000 life insurance policy. Quickly Marcia becomes a suspect.
Drew suggests they view the footage taken that day. While everyone is watching the film at the crucial moment of the murder the projectionist is knocked out and the film set on fire. The cigarette used to burn the film has make-up on it that is used by Marcia Lane. Before another copy of the film can be made the negative is destroyed by acid.
An extra on the movie named Chalmers (Alan Roscoe) has a grudge against the dead man. He is caught trying to dispose of a .38. He is for a moment another suspect until the observant Drew points out that his gun has not been fired. Later Drew finds a derringer hidden in a light and wired to fire remotely. Drew is knocked unconscious and the gun is stolen. When Drew goes to Chalmers to question him further he finds him dead. Next to him is a glass containing poison (battery fluid) and a written confession. Drew again finds clues that show Chalmers was actually murdered. He also finds that Marcia’s car battery is drained of battery fluid.
Lots of clues pointing everywhere. Drew keeps barreling through each one to get to the killer.
“The Death Kiss” was released in 1932 and was directed by Edwin L. Marin. It is a pre-code mystery. I found it to be interesting. Everyone had a problem with the dead guy so suspects were not in short supply. Murder mysteries in the 30’s were done to the point where the murder itself is almost incidental. There were lots of clues and red herrings and suspicion bounced from one character to another. At one time or another just about everyone was a suspect. The behind the scenes view of the movie set added a lot to the atmosphere. For the most part it was enjoyable.
I did see issues with the forced comedy. To me it didn’t add anything to the character of the so-called “hero” Drew. As the self-proclaimed investigator, Drew had a tendency to take over the investigation to the point where he seemed a little out of control. There really wasn’t anything he discovered that the police would have overlooked that was important to the case. The movie tried to make the police look inept and Drew a genius, but it mostly made Drew look overbearing.
His side-kick the inept studio guard Officer Gulliver (Vince Barnett) was sometimes a little amusing and mostly harmless. Drew would have been even more insufferable without him. All in all, the movie is entertaining but the character Drew is not.
Bela Lugosi's part was very small. He was fine for what there was of him. If you are a Lugosi completist OK add it to your collection, but he is not one of the main characters.