Jolly Cinema > 10:00


James Whale


Thursday 30/06/2016


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

James Whale’s classic Universal horror films will always overshadow his extensive other work for the studio, but his non-horror work is no less personal and often more formally inventive. The Kiss Before the Mirror is perhaps his most radical film, taking both cinematic and theatrical stylization to the edge of abstraction. In the extraordinary opening sequence, a married woman (Gloria Stuart) arrives at the home of her lover (Walter Pidgeon) and begins to disrobe, as her husband (Paul Lukas), mad with jealousy, spies through a window, a revolver in his pocket. Whale films these events as an elaborate, dreamlike dance of sexuality and death, precisely matching camera movement, blocking and dialogue delivery to the swooning rhythms of a tango.
The play on doubles and reflections suggested by the title continues both as a visual motif (mirrors reflect mirrors, within studiously symmetrical shots) and as a narrative strategy: no sooner has Lukas’s best friend, a celebrated attorney (Frank Morgan), agreed to defend him on a charge of murder, then does the attorney discover that his own wife (Nancy Carroll) has been unfaithful to him, and he is drawn into an identical emotional maelstrom. Morgan’s performance in the courtroom scenes is spectacularly and appropriate histrionic; when he applies the same melodramatic excess to more private moments, the films suggests that his great show of pain is only a pretense, meant to cover a possessive, misogynistic rage – a cover that Morgan’s junior associate, a ‘lady lawyer’ coded as a Lesbian and played with a no-nonsense attitude by Jean Dixon, penetrates immediately. The camera work, by Karl Freund, includes a spectacular example of that rara avis, a perfectly executed 360-degree pan. Deployed during the courtroom scene as Morgan delivers his impassioned defense to the jury, the circular shot completes the film’s sense of claustrophobia and entrapment, of lives doomed to endless repetition.

Dave Kehr

Cast and Credits

Sog.: dalla pièce Der Kuss Vor Dem Spiegel di Ladislaus Fodor. Scen.: William Anthony McGuire. F.: Karl Freund. M.: Ted Kent. Scgf.: Charles D. Hall. Mus.: W. Franke Harling. Int.: Gloria Stuart (Lucy Bernsdorf), Walter Pidgeon (l’amante di Lucy), Paul Lukas (Paul Held), Frank Morgan (Walter Bernsdorf), Nancy Carroll (Maria Held), Donald Cook (l’amante di Maria), Jean Dixon (Hilda). Prod.: Carl Leammle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. 35mm. D.: 68. Bn.