Classic Scene: The Wheelchair Scene

The Wheelchair Scene

Kiss of Death (1947)

Directed by Henry Hathaway

The Scene: Notorious hitman Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) calmly enters the apartment of a wheelchair bound old woman. The sociopathic killer is there for her son Rizzo. The film’s protagonist Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) has convinced the others in his old gang that Rizzo is the squealer who has brought the heat down on them. This means to shut him up permanently they dispatch Udo to take care of him. As he methodically scans the apartment, mother makes excuses to as where her son could be. When he turns up nothing, the lunatic lets out a demented chuckle as he turns his attention to the poor handicapped woman. If he can not find the squealer he is going to send him a message that nobody spills the beans on his pal Nick. After menacing her for a bit, he gleefully wheels her out the door to the stop of the stairwell. And with a twisted joy he does the unthinkable and throws the terrified woman to her death.

The Breakdown: The main element which has made this scene so infamous, is an element director Henry Hathaway did not even want. That would be actor Richard Widmark. Until this point he was a stage actor but the studio head behind Kiss of Death saw something in him and forced him into this villainous role. The result was the launch of Widmark’s career onscreen as he stole the show as giggling psycho. From there he became constant presence in film noir playing a host of deranged killers and seedy antiheroes and it all stems from here. Anyone who has seen Kiss of Death walks away with this scene seared into their memory. When Tommy Udo ties the helpless woman to the chair and starts willing her out, there is a palpable suspense as the viewer goes “he’s not actually going to to do it….she’s gonna spill the beans before he does it…”. But when they see the chair tumbling down those steep stairs they are shocked that the movie actually went there.

Best Bit: The deranged cackle from Tommy Udo. This shows he is not just a hitman, he is a hitman who clearly enjoys his sadistic work.