Every once in a while TCM catches me off guard with a rusty old gem. I tuned into this film to watch Bela, presumably as the heavy, teamed again with David Manners and the incomparable Edward Van Sloan. Bela starred in the independently produced The Death Kiss (1933) right after Paramont’s Island of Lost Souls (1933). I’ll be damned if it isn’t an effective little comedy-crime drama with Manners playing the gum-shoe role as a resourceful writer paired with a bumbling studio security guard.
Lugosi plays Joseph Steiner, the head of a studio and one of the prime murder suspects in this effective whodunit. This is actually a rare chance to see Lugosi in a non-menacing supporting role. Don’t expect capes, fangs, bushy eye brows and the usual Lugosi trappings in this one, but fans of Charlie Chan films will appreciate this murder mystery.
The film was shot at Tiffany Studios, located on Sunset Boulevard. Tiffany went belly-up during the depression years, probably not very long after The Death Kiss was filmed.
Tiffany was a fairly innovative studio, producing the first Technicolor film, Mamba (1930). The Death Kiss also offers some effective optical effects, including hand-tinting of various shots in yellow, orange and red during key scenes several years before Hitchcock had a gun blast tinted red or William Castle shocked us with crimson blood. While not really a Lugosi vehicle, this film garners my positive vote for being a bit different and offering up enough red herrings to keep most puzzlers happy.
Films Shot at Tiffany Studios, partial list.