Day 21 of Noirvember: Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947)

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on one scary dude: Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947).

Scary Tommy.


Career criminal Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) is arrested after a botched robbery attempt. He’s offered the chance for an early release if he squeals on his comrades, but he refuses. A couple of years later, he’s more than willing to squawk when he learns that his wife has committed suicide, leaving behind their two young daughters. Once he’s released, he remarries and leads a quiet, straight life, but as a condition of his release, he’s called on to provide evidence against a local hood, Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). He does, but when Tommy is acquitted of the crime, he vows revenge against Nick and his family.


We meet Tommy when Nick does, sitting in a cell awaiting transfer to Sing Sing. Tommy doesn’t seem to be bothered by his impending imprisonment – he muses on the damage he’d like to inflict on a passing guard, and punctuates the image with a unique, maniacal giggle. He’s impressed by Nick’s reputation and as pleased as a kid on Christmas when Nick says he’s heard of Tommy. “Imagine me on this cheap rap – big man like me,” Tommy boasts. “Picked up just for shoving a guy’s ears off his head. Traffic ticket stuff.”


This is that guy.

He’s a film noir icon. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you may be familiar with him. He’s the guy who ties up a wheelchair-bound woman and rolls her down a flight of steps. That move alone is worth his moment in the spotlight today.


“For a nickel, I’d grab him. Stick both thumbs right in his eyes. Hang on ‘til he drops dead.”


Richard Widmark was born in Sunrise, Minnesota, on December 26, 1914. Because of his father’s job as a traveling salesman, Widmark moved frequently as a child before settling in Princeton, Illinois. The actor later said he’d been a “movie nut” since the age of three, but he only appeared in one high school production and after high school, he enrolled in Lake Forest College as a pre-law major. While there, Widmark was taken under the wing of the school’s drama coach, who encouraged him to pursue an acting career.

After his graduation in 1936, he remained at the school for the next two years, teaching speech and drama. In 1938, Widmark moved to New York, where a former classmate-turned-radio producer gave him a job on the radio series, Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories. He spent the next several years honing his acting craft on the radio, sometimes doing as many as eight shows in a single day. After World War II, he debuted on Broadway in Kiss and Tell, playing a young Air Corps lieutenant, and went on to appear in a variety of stage productions. He finally got his big break when Henry Hathaway visited New York to cast the role of Tommy Udo. He caused a sensation in his film debut and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He lost to Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street, but it was quite an auspicious beginning.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 22 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 21, 2021.

8 Responses to “Day 21 of Noirvember: Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947)”

  1. Henry Hathaway certain made the correct casting choice for Udo when he found Richard Widmark.

    The director spoke about the character on Saturday Night at the Movies:
    “I have a very strange feeling about the part. The only man that I’m scared of is a hophead. I’m nervous around ’em. I’m scared of ’em. I don’t know what the hell they’re gonna do. They’re unpredictable, they’re vicious. They’re not themselves anymore. They’re psychotic. They’re crazy.”

  2. ‘This is that guy’ is the perfect description of Tommy Udo! He is definitely ‘that guy’ in so many ways. The craziest, the most psycho, and the most villainous.

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