The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933)


Character actor Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz) gets a leading role in this warped melodrama from director James Whale (The Old Dark House). Morgan plays an attorney defending a friend who murdered his wife after catching her in the arms of another man. When Morgan discovers his own wife (Hot Saturday‘s Nancy Carroll) is also having an affair, he plans to follow in his friend’s footsteps by killing her once he convinces the jury to acquit.

The Kiss Before the Mirror, based on a play by Ladislas Fodor, is cringe-worthy for several notions the sexual revolution rightfully obliterated. In addition to asserting that men who murder their wives have any right to do so, the film also suggests that women bring victimhood upon themselves by spending time in front of their vanity mirrors. Presumably in an act of counter-balance to the material, director Whale finds ways to mock the film’s gender politics in a number of witty or sarcastic remarks from various cast members. Jean Dixon (Holiday) gives the most grounded performance, playing Morgan’s gender non-conforming (possibly lesbian?) assistant, who essentially tells Morgan that as a fellow lawyer, she thinks he’s good; but as a woman, she thinks he’s full of shit.

Morgan is good, if not a smidge over the top, in the leading role. Carroll suffices as her unflattering character. Whale’s predilection for gothic sets and operatic staging leak through, even recycling some sets used in Frankenstein. The screenplay takes itself too earnestly to disregard its offensive morals, but this problematic film is still somewhat interesting for the ways its director, prone to subversion, tries to poke holes in the material. With Paul Lukas, Gloria Stuart, Morgan’s Oz co-star Charley Grapewin, and Walter Pidgeon.

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