The Film (4/5)
Bud Corliss (played by Robert Wagner), is the picture perfect college student. He has looks, style, but only one major issue, greed. Bud is dating the rich girl in class, Dorothy Kingship (Joanne Woodward) for the chance to gain her inheritance. But when he accidentally gets her pregnant and she risks losing her money, Bud plots to murder her and make it look like suicide. After faking a suicide note and throwing Dorothy off a building, things are looking up. But little does Bud know that Dorothy’s sister Ellen (Virginia Leith) and friend Gordon (Jeffrey Hunter) are investigating the suicide and they may be on to him.
Going into A Kiss Before Dying, I didn’t know what to expect having only seen the silly Sean Young starring 1991 remake. And I’m glad to report that this 1956 original delivers the noir thriller goods. Based on the 1953 novel by Ira Levin, which won the Edgar Award for best first novel, A Kiss Before Dying is a very unusual noir thriller. The movie uses bright dazzling color and widescreen to throw off the viewer. Until the first murder, the movie plays out and looks like an average romantic drama from the fifties. Slowly drawing you in, before the shocking jump into a thriller. The film reminds me of Claude Chabrol’s third film, “A Double Tour (1959)”, where the family drama is so inviting, before slowly pulling the rug from under us to reveal a thriller underneath.
The framing and staging of the action beautifully show off the widescreen image. During the roof top scene, you see a wide range of space and anxiety as it gets closer to the kill. The fifties look is complete with the shiny colors and the warmness they bring to the mystery. The only element that doesn’t help the film is the overly melodramatic soundtrack that drowns out any suspense. The music is mostly over used during the poison mixing scene.
The movie has an incredible cast. Robert Wagner is spot on as the cool wolf in sheep’s clothing. Every scene you can see in his eye that he is plotting his future, and he’ll wipe out anyone in his way. Virginia Leith gives the character of Ellen, lots of wit and makes a good little detective. Jeffery Hunter (The Searchers, the original Star Trek pilot) plays really well against type as the nerdy friend with a huge pipe and black rimmed glasses. As supporting roles, we have Robert Quarry, who would later become famous as Count Yorga vampire, as the nervous tennis player framed for murder, and Mary Astor (The 1941 Maltese Falcon) plays Bud’s Mother. The weakest link is Joanne Woodward as Dorothy Kingship, who is just annoying and hard to watch.
The movie comes with a 2.0 DTS-HD English master audio track. The sound levels are pretty balanced with the small exception of three or four times the soundtrack over powered everything. The movie also has a 1080p HD transfer with fine colors. The blues and yellows pop off the screen. There’s a few bits of print damage near the middle of the film and the ending. The picture turns a little fuzzy and the details blur for a few moments. There’s no subtitle options.
Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer.
A Kiss Before Dying is an unusual and well-made thriller. Looking like a colorful comedy but hitting hard with a studied madman performance by Wagner, the movie shows you can use widescreen and color to be just as punchy as a normal noir thriller. Kino gives this film a beautiful release that should be added to every film noir collection. Highly Recommended.