Saturday Night Cinema: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema is a gritty, violent noir thriller, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” starring the wildly intense James Cagney. Cagney channels the criminally psychotic Cody Jarrett (“White Heat”) and kicks up the crazy. The doomed Barbara Payton plays Cagney’s love interest. Her portrayal of the hardened, seductive girlfriend, whom Cagney’s character ultimately double-crosses, was critically praised. But, sadly,  this was to be apex of  Payton’s Hollywood’s career.

“….excess partying, drinking, and liaisons with men of dubious reputation tarnished her credibility as an actress on a serious career track and ultimately alienated the very Hollywood power brokers whose good will she needed to court in order to have a viable movie career. Through it all, however, Payton held to a childlike belief in her Hollywood stardom, which in her mind had never faded. She was unable to acknowledge that her once-promising career had crashed and burned, never to be resurrected.”

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Less well known is “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” the brothers’ 1950 follow-up to “White Heat” with Cagney as an even more violently deranged thug. In 1931, Cagney had first become a star by grinding a grapefruit in the face of his mistress (Mae Clarke) in “The Public Enemy.” In “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” Cagney, now middle-age and slightly paunchy, whips his companion (Barbara Payton) with a wet towel, and she falls into his embrace with a quaking, masochistic abandon. Whimsical it’s not. Ohio banned it outright, for what Variety called its “sordid, sadistic presentation of brutality.”


CagneyNY Times review:

All the snarling, mangling, triple-crossing and exterminating on the screen of the Strand yesterday morning adds up to one thing—James Cagney is back in town and right in the same old crime groove. In “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” adapted from Horace McCoy’s novel and produced by the star’s brother, William, Mr. Cagney is taking up where he left off in last season’s “White Heat.”

Intentional or not, the similarity is there and a yard wide. Again the action focuses on a group of underworldlings, some “respectable,” sidling together distrustfully to pull off a “big job” in a middle-sized community, succeeding and paying the piper. Mr. Cagney’s henchmen include, reminiscently, a basically “nice guy,” a confused blonde hanger-on, a shady lawyer and a couple of crooked policemen blackmailed into helping them. Director Gordon Douglas tries hard, but it’s the script by Harry Brown that really upsets the apple cart. Having assembled these characters rather graphically, the story proceeds to build up Cagney as a superman of cunning and right jabs and peels the others down to puppet size while the suspense trickles away. The novel may have been grimier but it was a lot more convincing.

Why, for instance, would such a shrewd operator tangle with the none-too-bright daughter of a powerful politician, marry her off-handedly, and saunter away smirking when Papa begs him to take over the management of her millions? Why would he choose, instead, to terrorize a comparatively small town and simply hang around after chalking up three fresh corpses. His cronies do recoil in horror or bafflement, Mr. Cagney’s jealous moll plugs him and down he goes as majestically and lingeringly as Julius Caesar.

Perhaps that’s the picture’s point, for Mr. Cagney emphatically is the picture. The others, when they can be seen, fare better, particularly Luther Adler, as the lawyer, and Ward Bond, as the conniving cop. As the moll, a superbly curved young lady named Barbara Payton performs as though she’s trying to spit a tooth—one of the few Mr. Cagney leaves her. Rhys Williams makes an impressively unctuous filling station attendant. As the nice girl, Helena Carter has to grapple with some mighty fragile sounding dialogue, but Mr. Cagney, the chameleon, is right up to her between killings. At one point during their courtship he muses, “Miss Dobson. I’ve always thought that the fourth dimension was neither philosophical nor mathematical, but purely intuitional.” Mr. Cagney, it’s purely baloney.

On the stage of the Strand are Toni Harper, the Lind Brothers, Billy Vine, Florian Zabach and his orchestra.
KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE; screen play by Harry Brown, from the Horace McCoy novel of the same name; directed by Gordon Douglas; produced by William Cagney and released by Warner Brothers.
Ralph Cotter . . . . . James Cagney
Holiday . . . . . Barbara Payton
Inspector Weber . . . . . Ward Bond
Mandon . . . . . Luther Adler
Margaret Dobson . . . . . Helena Carter
Jinx . . . . . Steve Brodie
Vic Mason . . . . . Rhys Williams
Reece . . . . . Barton MacLane
Ezra Dobson . . . . . Herbert Heyes
Doc Green . . . . . Frank Reicher
Tolgate . . . . . John Litel
District Attorney . . . . . Dan Riss
Cobbett . . . . . John Halloran


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