The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933)
Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
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as Walter Bernsdorf
as Maria Held
as Paul Held
as Lucy Bernsdorf
as Lucy's Lover
as Maria's Lover
as Hilda's Lover
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Critic Reviews for The Kiss Before the Mirror
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Audience Reviews for The Kiss Before the Mirror
For my money, James Whale is one of the more underrated directors who ever lived. Known for (and in some circles, absurdly dismissed for) his stylish Universal horror films (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man) Whale was also adept with more literary projects, such as Journey's End, By Candlelight, and this 1933 production of The Kiss Before The Mirror, which I would argue is just as good as Frankenstein. The film stars a pre-Wizard of Oz Frank Morgan as a prosecuting attorney haunted by the similarities between the case he's prosecuting -- that of a young man on trial for killing his unfaithful wife -- and his own feelings toward his spouse (Nancy Carroll).
The film features Whale's trademark stylistic flair (distorted, expressionism influenced shots and fluid camera movement), and it also features a show-stopping 360-degree panning shot of a courtroom that would end of becoming one of his favorite tricks. Technical feats aside, The Kiss Before The Mirror is vintage noir at its finest -- morally ambiguous sexual politics being filtered through a story of deceit, with a heavy helping of murder. It should be noted that at a slim running time of 67 minutes, the film manages to pack in a lot with steady, sure-handed pace -- an excellent sign of direction. The gift-wrapped ending was a little too cutesey for my taste, but overall this a great film by an even greater director.
"The Kiss Before the Mirror" starts with Lucy(Gloria Stuart) being murdered by her husband Walter Bernsdorf(Paul Lukas) as she is undressing for her lover(Walter Pidgeon). Walter's best friend Paul Held(Frank Morgan) takes his case, intending to get him off on a plea of temporary insanity. As Paul prepares his defense, he starts becoming suspicious of his own wife Maria(Nancy Carroll).
"The Kiss Before the Mirror" is a sophisticated, witty and, at times, unbearably suspenseful movie. While it may seem to be about betrayal at first, on closer inspection, the subject turns out to be more about men who have taken their wives for granted, having long stopped paying attention to them which forces the women to look elsewhere for comfort. And on trial for his life, Walter is already in hell, wishing anything he could take back his violent act.
(Originally reviewed in the blog section on 12/7/2009.)
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