Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Kiss Before Dying

Robert Wagner's 82d birthday was yesterday, so I probably should have blogged about it yesterday. But if you want to see an entertaining movie starring Robert Wagner, try the 1956 film A Kiss Before Dying

The opening titles make this look as though it's going to be either light entertainment or, from the title, a bit of a Love Story-style tragedy, but A Kiss Before Dying isn't like that at all. Wagner stars as Bud, a college student who comes from not much money, and so wants to make certain he doesn't wind up that way as an adult. One of his college classmates is Dorothy (Joanne Woodward), who is the daughter of a wealthy mine owner (George Macready). Bud knows that Dorothy is in line for an inheritance in the future, so Bud has started a romantic relationship with Dorothy, with the presumed intention of marrying her and, as the boss' son-in-law, eventually taking over the mining business.

Only, things don't quite work out that way. Bud is apparently stupid enough to have sex with Dorothy before they can ever get married, and this unsurprisingly results in Dorothy's getting knocked up! Oh dear, that sure isn't going to look good with Daddy! There goes the inheritance! But Bud is a determined young man and comes up with a brilliant idea: kill her and make it look like suicide! Bud gets Dorothy to write something that could look like a suicide note, and gets a hold of poison which he presents to Dorothy as medicine but which she doesn't take. So it's up to Bud to lure Dorothy to the top of City Hall and push her off, making it look as though she jumped.

Oh, but that's not the end of the story by any means. Dorothy has a sister Ellen (Virginia Leith), who meets Bud after her sister's "suicide". Perhaps Bud can fall in love with her and inherit Daddy's fortune that way. Only in Hollywood, I suppose. That plan is obviously doomed to failure, since the Production Code was still in effect and it's clear Bud is never going to get away with his crimes. Soon enough, Ellen begins to suspect that Dorothy didn't commit suicide, but was in fact murdered. And then she begins to put two and two together and figure out just who did it.

A Kiss Before Dying is entertaining enough, although it's a movie that has pretensions to a higher station in life than it really deserves. The movie was remade in 1991, although now in 2012, it's the sort of material that would likely go straight to one of the women's channels. Still, the producers brought in a lot of quality people to make the film: in addition to the stars mentioned, there's Mary Astor as Bud's mother and Jeffrey Hunter as Leith's boyfriend; also, the movie is based on a popular book of the time by Ira Levin, who wrote the original books The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil as well as the play No Time For Sergeants, all of which were turned into well-known movies. Finally, the movie is in wide-screen and color, giving it a look in many of the outdoor scenes that is really nice.

The problem, however, is the plot. I haven't read Levin's story, but the movie has some pretty bad plot holes, most notably a second murder committed by Bud: Bud finds somebody overhears him and Ellen in a restaurant, and realizes this man is a threat. So Bud manages to get back to the man's dorm and type up a suicide note, all before the student does. Yet there doesn't seem to be any way for there to be enough time for this. There's also an almost amusing sequence where pregnant Dorothy trips and falls down bleachers -- and yet it doesn't result in the baby being miscarried, they way falling down stairs would in almost any other movie (see Leave Her to Heaven, where Gene Tierney deliberately throws herself down the stairs to abort her unborn child).

A Kiss Before Dying is avaliable on DVD, although as I mentioned earlier, it was also remade -- and the 1991 version is on DVD as well. So if you want to enjoy Robert Wagner, make certain you get the correct version.

No comments: