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A Kiss Before Dying
A Kiss Before Dying
Actors: Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Virginia Leith, Joanne Woodward, Mary Astor
Director: Gerd Oswald
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2002     1hr 34min

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 m...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Virginia Leith, Joanne Woodward, Mary Astor
Director: Gerd Oswald
Creators: Lucien Ballard, George A. Gittens, Robert L. Jacks, Ira Levin, Lawrence Roman
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Love & Romance, Classics, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 12/03/2002
Original Release Date: 06/12/1956
Theatrical Release Date: 06/12/1956
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 1hr 34min
Screens: Color,Full Screen,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

Each kiss a prelude to....DEATH!
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 01/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I always thought Robert Wagner deserved a better film career than he got, as he's an excellent actor and did a number of movies, including All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960), and The Longest Day (1962), before transitioning to television in the late 60's working on shows like It Takes A Thief and his signature role as Jonathan Hart of the Hart to Hart series. Remember, back in the day it was looked as a major step down to go from films to television, a similar, contemporary comparison being that of working in theatrical releases and then finding yourself in direct to video market hell (Lou Diamond Phillips) or voice-overs for video games (Ray Liotta). Work is work, I suppose, and A Kiss Before Dying (1956) is certainly one of Wagner's finer film roles, in my opinion.

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).

Classic thriller from Gerd Oswald!
Lee Hartsfeld | Central Ohio, United States | 01/29/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

""A Kiss Before Dying" is an outstanding thriller with Hitchcock-level suspense courtesy of Gerd Oswald, a director much better known for his TV work on "The Outer Limits" and "Star Trek." Robert Wagner is excellent as a sociopathic killer who carries out the perfect crime but is done in by his own ambition and cleverness. The whole thing could have become ridiculous very easily, owing to certain gaps in story logic, but the dead-serious tone, the fast pacing and editing, and the high artistry of all involved make this a classic, if unusually elegant, piece of film noir."
One of the best books to movies made
Ed Uyeshima | 08/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I first read this story in a 1972 doubleday mystery volume. When I found it was a movie I was hesitant about watching as most books and movies just don't follow each other closely. This movie certainly does and wow, it is a chiller. It will keep you on the edge of your seat and is well worth watching and reading over and over again. This is a great story by Mr. Levin and movie by the director who made it."
Psychopath Entwined With Two Sisters in Effective Thriller
Ed Uyeshima | San Francisco, CA USA | 03/14/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This movie is a vivid reminder of the type of Baroque psychodrama/thriller Hollywood produced with great relish in the 1950's, and now it has been released on DVD. At the forefront back then was German-born filmmaker Douglas Sirk, whose turgid Technicolor melodramas ("Magnificent Obsession", "Imitation of Life" among others) served as inspiration for Todd Haynes' recent critical hit, "Far From Heaven", with Julianne Moore. Another contributor to this genre was director Gerd Oswald, who filmed an early Ira Levin book (his later works include "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Stepford Wives") in 1956 and manages to capture all the lurid elements and Freudian pop sensibilities that make this good fun to watch.

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."