Kiss Before Dying, A (1956)

Kiss Before Dying, A (1956)

“Haven’t you heard? Love conquers all.”

A sociopathic college student (Robert Wagner) murders his pregnant girlfriend (Joanne Woodward), then romances her sister Ellen (Virginia Leith), in an attempt to maintain access to her wealthy father (George Macready) — but a savvy classmate (Jeffrey Hunter) helps Ellen uncover the true danger she’s in.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • George Macready Films
  • Jeffrey Hunter Films
  • Joanne Woodward Films
  • Mary Astor Films
  • Plot to Murder
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychopaths
  • Robert Wagner Films
  • Social Climbers

This adaptation of Ira Levin’s award winning debut novel was controversial at the time for openly using the word “pregnant”. In Eddie Muller’s intro to the movie for TCM, he describes it as a kind of “homicidal Douglas Sirk”, with Technicolor cinematography, location shooting in Tucson, and a sexy homme fatale.

It’s notable for offering Joanne Woodward her second film role, though she’s killed off midway through, and apparently Woodward hated this movie (I can’t say I blame her, given that she comes across as not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed).

Virginia Leith is fine and beautiful (if undistinguished) as her brunette sister:

… in what appears to be her only GFTFF-listed film, though she had a role in Stanley Kubrick’s debut feature — Fear and Desire (1953) — and is apparently beloved for her beheaded role in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962). Meanwhile, Wagner is appropriately smarmy and charming as a man foolish enough to date his murder victim’s sister (talk about tools not being very sharp! — or perhaps simply hubris inevitably causing one’s downfall).

Watch for Mary Astor in a bit role as Wagner’s lower-class mother.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lucien Ballard’s atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


3 thoughts on “Kiss Before Dying, A (1956)

  1. (Rewatch 11/29/20) Not must-see.

    I have now seen this twice – and it’s not particularly impressive for any reason. Levin’s original (first) novel was an award-winner (Edgar Award, at age 23!) and my understanding is that it remains in high-regard. Though certainly far-fetched in some respects, the story is said to be distinguished in the writing (I haven’t read it).

    In the film version, there are two sisters and in the novel there are three (Wagner’s character goes after *all* of them, which really pushes the plausible).

    The most annoying thing about the film is twofold: a) Could Woodward’s character really not know how deceitful Wagner’s character is? He’s shady as hell!; and b) Could Woodward’s character be any more annoying or pathetic? How could these two have any kind of relationship that would work on a regular basis? Even if it’s understandable that he’s after her money, they make little to no sense together so it’s hard believing they could be in each other’s company for any length of time.

    The first time I saw the film was when I was still with my partner at the time. He hated Woodward’s character so much that, when she was killed, he asked me to use the remote just so we could go back and watch her being killed again.

  2. Your final paragraph made me laugh a bit, D. 😉 She really is annoying… I would love to hear more from Woodward’s perspective on how she was guided by the director (or not), and how she envisioned her character appearing versus how she actually turns out.

  3. Me using the remote was like that scene in ‘Death Becomes Her’: Meryl Streep is, of course, playing Goldie Hawn’s rival. Hawn is watching a movie with Streep in it. Streep is killed and Hawn grabs the remote just so she can watch her die… again and again and again.

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