A Kiss Before Dying


1h 34m 1956
A Kiss Before Dying

Brief Synopsis

A college student tries to get rich quick by wooing two wealthy sisters.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Action
Mystery
Release Date
Jun 1956
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Crown Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Virginia, USA; Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Middlesex, England, United Kingdom; New York City, New York, USA; Tucson, Arizona, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin (New York, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Synopsis

In Arizona, attractive but rapacious Stoddard University student Bud Corliss learns from his girl friend, Dorothy Kingship, that she is two months pregnant. Although Bud assures Dorothy, whom he affectionately calls "Doree," that he will take care of her, he hesitates when Dorothy insists on marrying, knowing that marriage will estrange her from her conservative father Leo, owner of the prestigious Kingship Copper Mines, whose wealth Bud covets. Dorothy insists they can have a successful marriage without her father's approval or the family money and Bud reluctantly agrees to wed in a few days. At home, Bud refrains from discussing his situation with his dedicated mother, who, like the Kingships, has no knowledge of his relationship with Dorothy. Bud then visits the library and after reading about various poisons, sneaks into the chemistry building where he steals several toxic powders that he places into capsules. Over the next couple of days, Bud convinces Dorothy to return a picture of him that he had given her and has her write out a translation of a melodramatic apology from Spanish into English. Later, Bud mails the translated note to Leo and offers the unsuspecting Dorothy the capsules, insisting they are vitamin pills recommended by a friend who works in a pharmacy. On bidding Dorothy goodnight that evening, Bud asks her to keep their wedding plans a secret from her sister Ellen and she agrees. The next morning Bud is stunned when Dorothy appears in class. Feigning illness, Bud hurries from class to the post office in a frantic and unsuccessful effort to recover the note. Although distressed, Bud later calls Dorothy to reconfirm their plans to wed the next day. Delighted, Dorothy agrees to meet Bud at the multi-storied building just after noon. The next day, Bud and Dorothy discover the marriage bureau is closed for lunch, prompting Bud to suggest that they go to the roof to look at the view. While sitting on a ledge, Dorothy admits she did not take the pills and apologizes for suspecting that Bud intended to hurt the baby. Bud tenderly forgives her and then pushes Dorothy off the roof to her death. A few days later, Police Chief Howard Chesser and his nephew, assistant professor Gordon Grant, meet with Leo and Ellen to report that a cursory investigation supports that Dorothy committed suicide. Gordon tells Leo that, as Dorothy's tutor and acquaintance, he did not believe her capable of suicide, but Leo, apprehensive of scandal tainting the family name, refuses to authorize an in-depth investigation. Before departing, Gordon offers Ellen sympathy and help should she want to learn more about Dorothy's death. Several months later, Bud has established a relationship with Ellen, who remains unaware of his involvement with Dorothy. One afternoon, Ellen receives a package from one of Dorothy's sorority sisters containing Dorothy's belt and a note informing her that Dorothy had borrowed her friend's belt the day she died. Cancelling a date with Bud that evening, Dorothy meets with Gordon to confide that receiving the belt made her realize that the day Dorothy died she had intentionally fulfilled the romantic wedding day tradition of wearing something old, new, borrowed and blue. When Gordon acts puzzled, Ellen declares her long-held suspicion that her sister was murdered. Ellen insists that they must learn the identity of Dorothy's secret boyfriend, whom she had mentioned vaguely in letters. While Gordon agrees to arrange a meeting with Chesser, Ellen gains permission to look through registration cards of Dorothy's university classes. Based on Dorothy's brief description of dating an English major who was tall and slender, Ellen deduces that athletic Dwight Powell was Dorothy's beau. Unknown to Ellen, Bud, upon receiving her message earlier, has followed her to the campus. Later when Ellen meets Dwight to confront him, the young man hesitates before admitting that he had dated Dorothy briefly and feared their break-up might have in some way provoked her suicide. Dwight insists he never called Dorothy "Doree" as her letter to Ellen claimed, then recalls Dorothy invited him to a party at the house of her new boyfriend, and offers to provide Ellen with the address. Ellen accompanies Dwight to his dormitory for the information and as she waits downstairs in the lounge, Dwight is surprised in his room by Bud, who types a suicide message for Dwight that admits to murdering Dorothy. Bud then shoots Dwight and escapes in the ensuing commotion. A couple of days later, a confident Bud proposes to Ellen and she accepts. Determined to sustain the fragile relationship with his daughter, Leo approves and arranges a party to announce the engagement. During the party, Gordon stops by to tell Ellen that he has discovered that Dwight was an active tennis player who was competing in Mexico City the day of Dorothy's death. As Gordon departs, Ellen introduces him to Bud and, recognizing him as a student, Gordon drives down the road where he calls Chesser and asks him to check on a connection between Bud and Dorothy. Gordon returns to the Kingships', where he privately tells Leo that it is suspicious that Bud has never mentioned attending the university or knowing Dorothy. Ellen interrupts and refuses to believe Gordon, presuming that Leo has encouraged him in order to discredit Bud. The next day Ellen takes Bud out to the copper works and gets him to admit that he knew Dorothy. Bud claims he did not tell Ellen about his brief acquaintance with her sister to spare her, but Ellen grows doubtful as she realizes he could easily have followed her to her meeting with Dwight. When Bud accidentally calls Dorothy "Doree," Ellen realizes that he is the murderer. Back at the Kingship house, Leo and Gordon receive proof from Chesser that Dorothy and Bud frequented a diner for several months. Concerned about Ellen, the men drive to the copper works. Meanwhile, certain that the police do not know of Ellen's suspicions, Bud attempts to push her off a cliff, but Ellen breaks free. As Leo and Gordon arrive, Bud rushes after Ellen, but is struck by a mine truck and falls to his death.

Photo Collections

A Kiss Before Dying - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from A Kiss Before Dying (1956), starring Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

Kiss Before Dying, A (1956) - If Certain Details Were Omitted Characters discussed but never seen before the murder (disguised as suicide) of Dory (Joanne Woodward), George MacReady her father, Virginia Leith her sister, Howard Petrie the police chief and Jeffrey Hunter, whom we have met, as the college tutor and weirdly, we learn, also part-time cop Gordon, with the culprit (Robert Wagner as “Bud” Corliss) lurking in Tucson’s El Presidio Park, in A Kiss Before Dying, 1956.
Kiss Before Dying, A (1956) - You've Concealed It Wonderfully Gobbling up more Tucson scenery, Virginia Leith as Ellen, wealthy sister of Dorothy (Joanne Woodward), whose murder has been officially ruled a suicide, receives a memento, then a phone call (from Bud, Robert Wagner, who committed the murder, and who is apparently now dating her!), then clashes with her cruel father (George MacReady), in A Kiss Before Dying, 1956.
Kiss Before Dying, A (1956) - Your Diabolic Spell Shooting on location near the Guadalupe Peak Trail outside Tucson, Virginia Leith as heiress Ellen is now totally ensnared by Robert Wagner as Bud, who now has not only sold his murder of her sister as a suicide, but also now killed the guy he set up for having driven her to it, in the byzantine A Kiss Before Dying, 1956, from an Ira Levin novel.
Kiss Before Dying, A (1956) - He Knew I Was Lying Following the credits and almost all in one take (by career A-D Gerd Oswald in his first outing as a director) college man Bud (Robert Wagner) has a slippery attitude already in place as well-to-do townie girlfriend Dorothy (Joanne Woodward) tells him she's pregnant, in A Kiss Before Dying, 1956.
Kiss Before Dying, A (1956) - Always The Girls' Fault Shiftless B-M-O-C Bud (Robert Wagner) meets pregnant girlfriend, whom he calls "Doree" (Joanne Woodward), who wants to set a wedding date, still playing it cagey, and maybe taking a stab at accidentally killing her (?), early in A Kiss Before Dying, 1956, from the Ira Levin novel.

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Action
Mystery
Release Date
Jun 1956
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Crown Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Virginia, USA; Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Middlesex, England, United Kingdom; New York City, New York, USA; Tucson, Arizona, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin (New York, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Articles

A Kiss Before Dying (1956)


1956 was the year Robert Wagner decided to risk alienating his bobby-soxer fans and do something about his boyish, clean-scrubbed screen image. First, he played the bad seed brother of Spencer Tracy in The Mountain. (In one scene, he discovers a recently crashed plane and proceeds to loot the bodies of the victims.) Then, he went a step further and played a cold-blooded psychopathic killer in A Kiss Before Dying. This is the one where he lures his pregnant girlfriend to a lonely rooftop under the guise of a quickie wedding ceremony and then he...Well, you get the idea. He's just not a very nice boy.

In addition to Wagner's unconventional casting as Mr. Evil Incarnate, A Kiss Before Dying generated some controversy over the use of the word "pregnant." Remember, this was the Eisenhower era. Hollywood's self-censorship organization, the Breen Office, would not allow the studio to use the word in advertisements. At a Chicago preview of the film, they actually excised the word from the soundtrack.

On the positive side, A Kiss Before Dying was a trouble-free production and featured a solid supporting cast that included Mary Astor, Joanne Woodward, Jeffrey Hunter, George Macready, and Virginia Leith. Astor, in particular, is memorable as the psychopath's mother. It was her first film role since Any Number Can Play in 1949 and in her autobiography, A Life on Film, she reported that an unnamed co-star in the film actually said to her at their introduction, "Mary Astor! I thought you were dead!"

Joanne Woodward, who has the smaller, more unfortunate role of the unwitting victim in the film, was at the beginning of her screen career. A Kiss Before Dying was her second movie and she wasn't at all happy about it. In fact, she once referred to it as her "worst picture." Woodward was very outspoken about her dislike of Hollywood and its emphasis on glamour but she did agree to appear at a New York promotion for A Kiss Before Dying where she struck pin-up poses in a sexy, tight-fitting sleeveless dress.

Although you might be more familiar with the 1991 remake of A Kiss Before Dying starring Matt Dillon, the original is still the best version and works well as a cautionary tale about strangers, particularly men who are to all appearances - charming, handsome, and considerate. In a way, you could say Robert Wagner's role became a prototype for all the devilishly handsome killer roles that followed, from Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell in Compulsion (1958) to Christian Bale in American Psycho (1999).

Director: Gerd Oswald
Producer: Robert L. Jacks
Screenplay: Lawrence Roman, based on the novel by Ira Levin
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Editor: George A. Gittens
Art Direction: Addison Hehr
Music: Lionel Newman
Cast: Robert Wagner (Bud Corliss), Jeffrey Hunter (Gordon Grant), Virginia Leith (Ellen Kingship), Joanne Woodward (Dorothy Kingship), Mary Astor (Mrs. Corliss).
C-94m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford
A Kiss Before Dying (1956)

A Kiss Before Dying (1956)

1956 was the year Robert Wagner decided to risk alienating his bobby-soxer fans and do something about his boyish, clean-scrubbed screen image. First, he played the bad seed brother of Spencer Tracy in The Mountain. (In one scene, he discovers a recently crashed plane and proceeds to loot the bodies of the victims.) Then, he went a step further and played a cold-blooded psychopathic killer in A Kiss Before Dying. This is the one where he lures his pregnant girlfriend to a lonely rooftop under the guise of a quickie wedding ceremony and then he...Well, you get the idea. He's just not a very nice boy. In addition to Wagner's unconventional casting as Mr. Evil Incarnate, A Kiss Before Dying generated some controversy over the use of the word "pregnant." Remember, this was the Eisenhower era. Hollywood's self-censorship organization, the Breen Office, would not allow the studio to use the word in advertisements. At a Chicago preview of the film, they actually excised the word from the soundtrack. On the positive side, A Kiss Before Dying was a trouble-free production and featured a solid supporting cast that included Mary Astor, Joanne Woodward, Jeffrey Hunter, George Macready, and Virginia Leith. Astor, in particular, is memorable as the psychopath's mother. It was her first film role since Any Number Can Play in 1949 and in her autobiography, A Life on Film, she reported that an unnamed co-star in the film actually said to her at their introduction, "Mary Astor! I thought you were dead!" Joanne Woodward, who has the smaller, more unfortunate role of the unwitting victim in the film, was at the beginning of her screen career. A Kiss Before Dying was her second movie and she wasn't at all happy about it. In fact, she once referred to it as her "worst picture." Woodward was very outspoken about her dislike of Hollywood and its emphasis on glamour but she did agree to appear at a New York promotion for A Kiss Before Dying where she struck pin-up poses in a sexy, tight-fitting sleeveless dress. Although you might be more familiar with the 1991 remake of A Kiss Before Dying starring Matt Dillon, the original is still the best version and works well as a cautionary tale about strangers, particularly men who are to all appearances - charming, handsome, and considerate. In a way, you could say Robert Wagner's role became a prototype for all the devilishly handsome killer roles that followed, from Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell in Compulsion (1958) to Christian Bale in American Psycho (1999). Director: Gerd Oswald Producer: Robert L. Jacks Screenplay: Lawrence Roman, based on the novel by Ira Levin Cinematography: Lucien Ballard Editor: George A. Gittens Art Direction: Addison Hehr Music: Lionel Newman Cast: Robert Wagner (Bud Corliss), Jeffrey Hunter (Gordon Grant), Virginia Leith (Ellen Kingship), Joanne Woodward (Dorothy Kingship), Mary Astor (Mrs. Corliss). C-94m. Letterboxed. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

A condensed version of the novel A Kiss Before Dying was published in Cosmopolitan in July 1953. According to 1953 Hollywood Reporter news items, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the story rights and considered casting their contract player Robert Wagner in the lead. A December 1954 item indicates that Robert Parrish was under consideration by Crown Productions, Inc. to direct the film for producers Robert Goldstein and Robert L. Jacks.
       Martin Miner was initially cast in the role of "Dwight Powell," but due to schedule changes, Milner was forced to leave the film. A Kiss Before Dying marked the directorial debut of Gerd Oswald. Wagner, Joanne Woodward and Jeffrey Hunter were borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the film. Hollywood Reporter production lists add Ann Seaton and Ray Teal to the cast, but her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Teal does not appear in the film. Modern sources add Robert Ivers to the cast. As noted in news items, the film was shot on location in Tucson, AZ. The novel A Kiss Before Dying was also the basis for a 1991 Universal film of the same title that starred Matt Dillon and Sean Young, directed by James Dearden.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 1956

Remake of the 1956 "A Kiss Before Dying," directed by Gerd Oswald, which featured Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward.

Began shooting March 5, 1990.

Completed shooting May 17, 1990.

Released in United States Summer June 1956

CinemaScope