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A Kiss Before Dying [Import]
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Robert Wagner gambled with his clean-cut image to play the ruthless, conniving killer in this unrelenting thriller co-starring Jeffrey Hunter, Virginia Leith, Joanne Woodward and Mary Astor. Based onthe novel by suspense master Ira Levin ( Deathtrap ), A Kiss Before Dying is riveting, sure-fire entertainment you can't miss! Wagner is Bud Corliss, a darkly handsome college boy so obsessedwith wealth that he'll do anything to get it. When his rich girlfriend Dorothy (Woodward) gets pregnant and is threatened with disinheritance, Bud stages her suicide, sending her plummeting from the roof of a high-rise. It's the perfect crime until Dorothy's sister Ellen (Leith) begins to unravel Bud's deadly scheme.
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Top Customer Reviews
I'm not sure the movie itself comes out so well but it sure is fun. Jeffrey Hunter playing some kind of part-time detective college professor, glasses and all, is something to be seen. And legendary Mary Astor is always a delight, she only appears in a couple of scenes though. Couldn't this mother/son relationship be a prelude to the one in "Psycho"? And what about killing the leading lady halfway the movie and having her sister investigate her death?
Well, plot holes, stilted directing, goofs (the clouds and the light in the important rooftop scene, obviously shot in different days or perhaps different times of the same day) and all, this is really fun to see (and Robert Wagner is so thin).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Based on a novel by Ira Levin (Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives), A Kiss Before Dying was directed by Gerd Oswald, one of the more prominent directors in the early days of television, working on such shows as Rawhide, Bonanza, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, and Star Trek, to name a few. The film stars, as I mentioned before, a very young Robert Wagner, Joanne Woodward, her next being The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon), Jeffrey Hunter (The Searchers), George Macready (The Big Clock), and Virginia Leith, who saw her career bottom out six years later in the seminal sci-fi schlocker The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962). Also appearing is Robert Quarry, who would later achieve a cult-like following for his starring role in Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) and its' follow up, The Return of Count Yorga (1971).
The film opens on a young couple in a small room, the woman weeping softly on the bed, and the man looking as if to console her. The woman's name is Dorothy Kingship (Woodward), and the man is Bud Corliss (Wagner). As the scene presented itself, I took a wild stab in my mind as to what was going on, and I was right...the girl has learned she's pregnant, and now she's broken the news to her boyfriend. Bud seems to offer his reassurances that he'll do right by her, and she accepts them, but to the viewer his words (and actions) seemed to be tinged by a sinister quality, one someone who is blinded by love may not notice. We later find out Dorothy comes from money, and her father (Macready), a stern man, would look poorly on her condition, cutting off any financial support. We later learn Bud's not so much in love with Dorothy, but the wealth her family could provide, and now that the milk from his potential cash cow has soured, due to Dorothy's condition, he must find a way to extricate himself from this situation (can you say murder?), and does so, with a great deal of meticulous, planning. Soon Dorothy's sister, Ellen, who's not convinced the evidence around her sister's death is as clear cut as the police would believe (they thought it suicide), looks into the matter herself, uncovering the well hidden tracks of a cold, ruthless killer, one who's aware of her every move, and won't let anything stand between him and what he believes is rightfully his...
I really enjoyed this film...the contrast between Robert Wagner's boyish, all-American good looks and his characters' cold, relentless malevolent drive in achieving his goals was really creepy. He was smart, charming, always seemed to know the right thing to say, and incredibly focused on the details, wary of leaving anything that might lead back to himself. His willingness to do whatever he has to in maintaining his deception is beyond what many could even begin to fathom, even managing to keep his own mother in the dark (which is no easy task, for any of you out there with a mother should be able to attest). Rarely have I seen such an ugly, rotten-to-the-core being hidden by such a handsome and absorbing façade, except maybe in the Omen films (especially the last one with Sam Neill). Everyone else did reasonably well, although I felt casting Macready as the father seemed a bit too obvious, and Hunter's character, as the tutor/junior police investigator, seemed more of a plot contrivance rather than a character. Oswald does a wonderful job directing, and while the story is slow moving at first, it worked well to allow us to really study Wagner's character, the depths of his roguish villainy, and also to set up Woodward's character for a spectacularly shocking demise (don't watch the trailer prior to watching the film, as it will spoil this). Ahhh, but even the most meticulous of plans can come unraveled, especially those based on deception, and soon Bud finds certain loose threads may be his undoing. The ending was theatrically sensational, although I've read that some felt it was a little too over-the-top, ill-befitting the subtle nature of the story, but I thought it was aptly appropriate given the diabolical nature of Wagner's character. One thing that kind of puzzled me is based on Wagner's character's nature for meticulousness, I thought it strange that he should flub his initial, carefully crafted efforts by getting Dorothy pregnant. I know sex ed wasn't focused on as much in the 50's as it may be now, but seeing as how Bud's cousin worked in a pharmacy, I would have thought obtaining prophylactics wouldn't have been that big of a deal...oh well...
The widescreen picture on this DVD looks very good, although there was a strange event during a few of the outside shots resulting in a weird, yet brief `shimmer' effect (you'll know it when you see it). I thought the audio decent, but a little too soft for my tastes, as I had to turn up the volume. The only special feature available is an annoying, talky trailer (avoid before watching the film).
A very young and dapper Robert Wagner plays a very cool and collected psychopath named Budd Corliss, who impregnates his naive girlfriend, Dorothy, played by an ingenuous Joanne Woodward in only her second film. That accident virtually guarantees her disinheritance from her wealthy, taciturn father, and so Budd spends the first half of the story plotting her murder ensuring her death will look like a suicide. The story telegraphs the inevitable event for quite a while, and the scenes that lead to it are tensely effective culminating in a camera-savvy push from a rooftop that is visually stunning. Similar to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (and predating that classic by four years), the story shifts perspective to her sister Ellen and a detective who try to put the pieces together to figure out who murdered Dorothy. The twists in this part of the film include a tennis pro who is too helpful to Ellen for his own good, and Ellen herself, ignorant of Budd's previous relationship with Dorothy, begins an affair with Budd. Contrived? You bet. But the story is filled with such tension and twists that it is difficult to pull away once you get hooked.
Wagner has never been the most resourceful of actors, but he nails this part with his impassive detachment, an interesting precursor to Matt Damon's Tom Ripley. Woodward makes an impression, but she is really only called upon to play a smitten coed you know will not survive. A rather wooden contract player named Virginia Leith plays Ellen in a manner that reminded me of Cary Grant's honey-voiced actress wife, Betsy Drake. Jeffrey Hunter seems rather confused playing the detective, and Mary Astor is sadly given very little to do as Budd's subtly grasping mother (I wish they fleshed this aspect out more to explain Budd's psychosis). Of course, it all ends precariously on the ledge of a limestone mine, as Ellen fights off Budd to save her own life. Avoid the 1991 remake with Matt Dillon and Sean Young unbelievably playing both sisters, as this is the one that will provide you with silly melodramatic fun.
The first half of the film is better than its concluding scenes - both Wagner and Woodward are fine as would-be college sweethearts, and the initial murder scene is both creepy and believable. Later scenes and characters are not - including Virginia Leith (who seems oddly stiff and detached as Dorie's sister Ellen), Jeffrey Hunter (who's unconvincing as part-time police investigator Gordon Grant), George Macready (who plays patriarch Leo Kingship as a one-dimensional autocrat), and a ridiculous mid-film murder (with the victim literally sitting at his desk, begging pitifully, while the murderer debates which side of his head would be best for the bullet). The film was billed as a "noir" murder mystery, but its bright color pallet and zippy score make it seem too upbeat for that genre.
For those who have read the novel, this adaptation cuts out the third Kingship sister, which is a shame (since that also means we miss one of the novel's more interesting murders, as well as its final twist). More of a problem, however, is the lack of the background information on Bud Corliss provided in the novel - including his childhood, relationship with his mother, and his growing obsession with Kingship Copper. Wagner's Bud is a pretty-boy without a heart, but also without clear motivation for his actions. The novel's twist (coming at about the half-way point in the story) translates fairly well to the screen, however - especially since Robert Wagner was not a big star at the time the film was made (you'll know what I mean once you've seen the film!).
It's worth a viewing . . . and it's MUCH better than the dreadful 1991 remake (with Matt Dillon and world's-worst-actress Sean Young).
Director Gerd Oswald's staging of the first half is little short of brilliant, and had the filming been in appropriate black and white, a latter day noir classic would have resulted. Notice how subtly Woodward expects a kiss atop the municipal building, the pinnacle of her girlish dreams, while Bud (Wagner) callously lights a cigarette, oblivious to her romantic longing. And what a gripping piece of morbid pathology is Wagner's slip-sliding through the chemistry lab as he prepares a toxic potion for his lady love. Maybe in the last analysis, Bud's problem lies with mother. The fixation is certainly not normal, as she senses in putting off his request for a "date". Yet as Bud's social climbing becomes tellingly clear, the ambitious plans are for mom too. The subtext here is a risky one for 50's popular entertainment.
Unfortunately, the second half reverts to standard Hollywood convention, the suspense subsiding along with the first-rate mood music. Putting a pipe in the callow Jeffrey Hunter's mouth and making him a college professor amounts to a crippling micalculation on someone's part. Hunter's simply not the type, nor does he have the gravitas to carry the plot forward. Note the monster truck bearing down. That's the hand of predestination Bud should have noted in that literature class. There is a point to Dory's unfortunate life, after all. The end result is a hybrid of first-half brilliance and second-half mediocrity. Too bad.
Worth the purchase, nonetheless.
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