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Monday, April 25, 2016

A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956)

Working in ultra-WideScreen CinemaScope doesn’t much help Gerd Oswald on his feature debut (too many long, rhythmless one-shot conversations), but this tasty thriller comes thru visually anyway. In decor (art director Addison Hehr), with half-toned/color-coded interiors, and in Lucien Ballard’s cool-to-the-touch lensing with highly saturated Deluxe Color servicing powder blue cars, peach blouses & turquoise steering wheels. All part of the pastel world of privilege poor-but-dreamy psychopath Robert Wagner plots to marry into. But all his plans come unglued when clingy, college co-ed/fiancé Joanne Woodward discovers she’s pregnant!; sure to be disinherited. And just about here you start noticing that Ira Levin's too-clever-by-half debut novel is really a perverted ‘Pop’ re-imagining of Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY.* (Two main differences: our protagonist’s level of guilt and, in a masterstroke, making the whiny victim the sister of the improved replacement.) As the young killer’s nemesis, Jeffrey Hunter is nearly as ridiculously handsome as Wagner is, even behind studious 'Clark Kent' glasses. Too bad Virginia Leith never gets anything going as the big sister. At least, a harsh looking Mary Astor, as the killer’s trusting mom, and silky-voiced George Macready, as the victim’s cold-hearted dad, add some supporting star power.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: This indie production went out via United Artists, but is all 20th/Fox above & below the line creatively. How'd that happen?

DOUBLE-BILL: *Officially remade in ‘91 with Matt Dillon in for Wagner and Sean Young as both sisters (now that’s scary!), it all but scuttled the career of writer/director James Dearden. Instead, as mentioned above, go straight to DreiserLand with either the underrated AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY/’31 or the overrated A PLACE IN THE SUN/’51. Or, split the diff quite nicely with Woody Allen’s sneaky unofficial rethink in MATCH POINT/’05.

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