A Kiss Before Dying (1956 film)
|A Kiss Before Dying (1956)|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gerd Oswald|
|Produced by||Robert L. Jacks|
|Screenplay by||Lawrence Roman|
|Based on||on the 1953 novel A Kiss Before Dying
by Ira Levin
|Music by||Lionel Newman|
|Editing by||George A. Gittens|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||94 minutes|
A Kiss Before Dying is a 1956 American color film noir, directed by Gerd Oswald. The screenplay was written by Lawrence Roman, based on Ira Levin's 1953 novel of the same name, which won the 1954 Edgar Award for "Best First Novel." The drama stars Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Virginia Leith, Joanne Woodward, and Mary Astor, among others. It was remade in 1991 under the same name.
Wagner plays a psychopathic college student, who upon discovering that his wealthy girlfriend — played by Joanne Woodward in one of her first film roles — is pregnant out of wedlock, kills her and stages the murder as a suicide.
Bud Corliss (Wagner) is an ambitious student who is wooing Dorothy Kingship (Woodward) purely for her father's mining fortune.
When he discovers that Dorothy is pregnant with his child, he realizes she is quite likely to be disinherited by her wealthy family. He assures Dorothy that he'll take care of her, yet he hesitates when Dorothy insists on marrying. Bud then murders Dorothy and stages it in a way that it appears to be a suicide. He then reaches out to her sister Ellen (Leith) with the hopes of marrying her in order to ingratiate himself with her father. After a couple of months Ellen finds evidence to question the suicide verdict, and then discovers that Bud knew Dorothy. Ellen struggles to avenge her sister and save her own life.
- Robert Wagner as Bud Corliss
- Jeffrey Hunter as Gordon Grant
- Virginia Leith as Ellen Kingship
- Joanne Woodward as Dorothy ('Dorie') Kingship
- Mary Astor as Mrs. Corliss
- George Macready as Leo Kingship
- Robert Quarry as Dwight Powell
- Howard Petrie as Howard Chesser, Chief of Police
- Bill Walker as Bill, the Butler
- Molly McCart as Annabelle Koch
- Marlene Felton as Medical Student
Darryl F. Zanuck bought the rights to the book in August 1953, following the bidding of many studios. His public announcement revealed that Wagner would star in the lead. It was filmed in Tucson AZ.
When the film opened, Variety wrote: "This multiple-murder story is an offbeat sort of film, with Robert Wagner portraying a calculating youth who intends to allow nothing to stand in his way to money ... Gerd Oswald's restrained direction suits the mood ... Wagner registers in killer role. Woodward is particularly good as the pregnant girl, and Virginia Leith acceptable as her sister. Jeffrey Hunter is lost as a part-time university professor responsible for the final solution of the crimes. Mary Astor and George Macready are okay as Wagner's mother and the girls' father."
Time Out Film Guide liked the script and the direction of the film, and wrote, "An early Ira Levin thriller, predating Rosemary's Baby...superbly adapted as an icily acute nightmare...by the great Oswald, giving a criminally myopic Hollywood its first glimpse of a unique visual talent, idiosyncratically developed from that of his father, German silent director Richard Oswald."
Film critic James Crawford praised the film for direction and inventiveness. He makes the case that the film's long second shot functions as a foreshadowing, an organizing principle, a statement of purpose in the film. Crawford wrote, "It’s not remarkable for what it reveals — it’s essentially exposition of narrative and character traits — but for its movement, length, and the way it approaches space, viewer identification, and power dynamics." As for the creativity of the film, he compares the three minutes, 26 seconds length of the shot and likened it to the "granddaddy of all tracking shots", the one that kicks off Touch of Evil — the most apropos comparison, given that it was released in 1958, two years later.
According to film critic Alain Silver, a theme used in film noirs is the disruptive force of the "maniac" in society. The threat to the family and social values are apparent in these types of films.
Gaining dominance and disrupting the family is a central theme of A Kiss Before Dying. Robert Wagner's character pursues one path to his true target in Dorothy, then kills her and pursues her sister, all with the objective of reaching their father and his fortune.
- Selby, Spencer. Dark City: The Film Noir, McFarland Publishing: Jefferson, N.C. & London, 1984. ISBN 0-89950-103-6. [Note: A Kiss Before Dying listed as 1950s color film noir on page 203.]
- A Kiss Before Dying at the American Film Institute Catalog.
- "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood" by Hedda Hopper, Tucson Daily Citizen, August 4, 1953, p. 6
- "A Kiss Before Dying" Variety, December 31, 1955.
- Time Out Film Guide. Time Out-Chicago, film review. Last assessed: November 29, 2007.
- Craford, James. Reverse Shot, film analysis and review, Summer 2006. Last accessed: November 29, 2007.
- Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, eds. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, "Maniacs and Mayhem," page 391, 3rd edition, 1992. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.
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