Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (Blu-ray Review)9 Sep, 2013 By: Mike Clark
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Stars James Cagney, Barbara Payton, Helena Carter, Ward Bond.
The then still-breathing censorship board in my home state of Ohio banned this immediate Cagney-Warner Bros. follow-up to the gangster classic White Heat until 1954 — citing, in a quote brandished as a badge of honor on the jacket art here: “a sordid, sadistic presentation of brutality and an extreme presentation of crime with explicit steps in commission.” Professional censors would themselves be kissing tomorrow goodbye as well, though it’s true that the violence here is notable enough for the day, including one of the more painful-appearing service-station killings to show up on the screen until the one in Kiss Me Deadly five years later. Almost as ban-able in official Buckeye eyes was the movie’s portrayal of cops on the take, played by Ward Bond and Barton MacLane. Because we all know that that never happened, right?
Based on a novel by Horace McCoy, who also penned They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, this is an extremely zippy chunk of nastiness from Cagney’s production company, though it’s about as preposterous as even melodramas come. The actor, who by now was 50 and showing it, plays a chain-gang escapee with the ability to make comely young things fall for him in a minute or so — to say nothing of a knack for pretty well taking over the corrupt wing of a town almost immediately after blowing in. The former conceit, of course, was true of all but the best of Hollywood movies in that era; people fell in love mighty quickly.
In a big break that only sustained her until she took the lead a year later in Curt Siodmak’s immortal Bride of the Gorilla, the first of two plot-central women here is played by Barbara Payton, the scandal-plagued blonde from the same Minnesota town as Jessica Lange (Cloquet) and one who eventually descended into prostitution until her death at 39. In truth, she gives a respectable performance as the initially innocent sis of a convict slain in the prison camp escape (Neville Brand), only to become something close to Cagney’s moll. This is a character prone to heaving breakable objects against the wall during agitated moments, and what Payton does with a coffee pot here merited an appreciative nod from Frank Sinatra during his stellar emceeing job of Cagney’s Emmy-winning reception of the 1974 AFI Life Achievement Award during the second such show ever broadcast. Matter for fact, one of the clip excerpt reels had some fun with this movie as well.
The other woman, more polished, is played by another then newcomer: Helena Carter — she probably best known as the female grown-up you could trust (as opposed to co-star Hillary Brooke), in the original version of Invaders From Mars that William Cameron Menzies directed, a film that had a huge Boomer influence on little Stevie Spielberg. Here, Carter is the outwardly poised but inwardly messed-up daughter of the state’s biggest power broker — one whose completely unswallowable presto marriage to Cagney is annulled after dad invades the premises on their wedding night (they’re in separate beds, apparently fearful of the Ohio censorship board). Carter has a much more refined way of speaking than I recall from Mars (though it’s been years since I’ve seen it), and her bedroom hair here could be used as a selling point for a beauty parlor anxious to tout its blow-dry prowess.
Olive’s print is typically no-frills but looks pretty decent — especially since this is a movie Warner distributed butt didn’t control (it was originally sold to TV in the early ‘60s along with another Payton starrer with Gregory Peck — Only the Valiant — in a package distinctively other than the one that contained the studio’s loftier titles from roughly the same early-to-mid-‘50s period such as, say, Strangers on a Train and The Searchers). Bond’s performance as a crooked professional servant is very impressive and nuanced, and it re-enforces what a good actor he was despite having been such a Right-wing reactionary in real life that even his close (conservative) friend John Ford regarded him as an oaf. One supporting cast amusement, buried way deep, is the brief early show-up by William Frawley as a presumably sadistic prison guard who’s pretty oafish himself. The actor’s career wasn’t exactly torrid at the time, but he was about a year away from his “I Love Lucy” casting as Fred Mertz — a break that gave him a degree of screen immortality not that far away from Cagney’s.