The Kiss Before The Mirror (1933)

Film Review


Release Date: 1933

Studio: Universal

Director: James Whale

Starring: Nancy Carroll, Frank Morgan, Paul Lukas

Related Discussion Topic: The Hays Code

Learn about the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, in the Discussion Topics section.


Walter Bernsdorf shoots his wife as she is undressing in her lover's bedroom. Distraught, Walter tells his attorney, Paul Held, that he had not suspected his wife until the afternoon he killed her. That day as she was sitting before her mirror carefully making up, he came from behind and kissed her. Her response was anger. He immediately suspected that she had a lover for whom she was beautifying herself. He took his gun and followed her to her lover's house where he shot her. Leaving the jail, Paul goes home to his own beautiful and seemingly faithful wife, Maria. In their bedroom he rests on a lounge as she carefully makes up before her mirror. He notes the elaborateness of her preparations. He realizes the similarity to the actions of his client's wife. He rises, and coming from behind, kisses her. Her response is anger. Suddenly, he realizes that Maria is going to meet her lover. He follows her and observes his wife embracing her lover and going off with him. The distressed lawyer contemplates killing his unfaithful wife.

In court Paul makes an impassioned plea for his client saying that he suffered from crazed jealousy as he watched his wife undress for her lover. Maria, in court to hear her husband's plea for Walter, realizes that Paul is pleading his own defense in anticipation of killing her. She becomes hysterical and has to leave the court. Walter is acquitted of murder. He tells Paul that even though Maria is unfaithful, Paul would regret harming her. Later, at home, Paul realizes that although he is devastated by her adultery, he cannot kill his beloved Maria. After her hysteria in the court, Maria has considered her actions. She realizes that she loves her husband and deeply regrets her unfaithfulness. She comes home to plead for forgiveness. The couple is reconciled.


This fine film is a story of faithlessness and remorse and reconciliation. Two couples experience similar events (the husband's kiss of his wife as she is preparing to see her lover). The inconsolable sorrow of the first husband teaches the second that the death of his wife will not resolve his anger and grief. The wife has learned that she loves her husband and deeply regrets betraying him. The couple is reconciled. Frank Morgan is best known for his bumbling comic characters, such as the wizard in The Wizard of Oz (1939). However, he often played serious, troubled individuals, such as in The Shop Around the Corner (1940). In the early thirties, his troubles might involve a woman, such as in Hallelujah I'm a Bum (1933). His lawyer in The Kiss Before the Mirror is very much troubled by his love, and Morgan nicely conveys the character's anger and grief. Nancy Carroll began her career as the star of her films. From 1928-1935 she starred in many fine films, such as Laughter (1930). Her star status declined after 1935, and she ended the 1930s in supporting roles.