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Robert Wagner
Joanne Woodward
Jeffrey Hunter
Virginia Leith
Mary Astor
George Macready
Robert Quarry
Howard Petrie

Gerd Oswald



Time: 94 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Thriller

SYNOPSIS: A ruthless college student resorts to murder in a futile attempt to marry an heiress.

BOTTOM LINE: Wagner attempts to shed his dull, pretty boy image by playing an unrepentant killer in this melodramatic thriller. His character, Bud Corliss, will do anything to become a member of the wealthy and powerful Kingship clan. When his romancing of the younger daughter Dorothy (Woodward) goes terribly wrong – he knocks her up – he tries to do the right thing: get permission from her father to marry her. Unfortunately for Bud, Dorothy has been yearning for a chance to break free from her family and she views her unplanned pregnancy as her ticket to independence (her father will certainly disown her for such sinful behavior). Bud's come to admire Dorothy – she's a smart, loving, loyal, passionate girl – however, he has loftier goals in mind than being just a husband and father. Her refusal to bring him into the Kingship fold leaves him no choice but to get rid of her and her growing problem.

Since they've both kept their relationship a secret, her sudden "suicide" leaves him free and clear to pursue other avenues into her family's fortune. What he fails to anticipate is that Dorothy's death hits her family hard and sends her older sister Ellen (Leith) on a quest to uncover the truth regarding her sister's death. While the final half of the film has moments of tension, since we know what really happened to Dorothy, watching Ellen and the local police catch up is not exactly thrilling. The first half, where Bud is forced to deal with Dorothy's clingy, undying love while devising a believable and permanent way out of his predicament, is ten times more fun. Wagner is perfectly cast as the handsome, ambitious, soulless killer willing to do anything to gain entry into the world of privilege. He'd even be truly creepy, if he were a better actor. Woodward has the throwaway victim role and yet is so good as the loving, clueless, independent Dorothy you feel her presence to the final frame. This is only her second film and she steals it from everyone else, which would be even more impressive if this were a better movie.

"Then we haven't anything to worry about. Haven't you heard? Love conquers all."

The film's sense of passion and urgency is supposed to be transferred from Dorothy to Ellen, but Leith's performance lacks the strength and conviction needed to drive the rest of story. She seems to be merely going through the motions, rather than being doggedly determined to catch a killer. Without that spark, the film limps to its' inevitable conclusion. Wagner's performance also loses some of its gusto since he's no longer in control and basically just waiting around to be caught. How they eventually piece everything together is somewhat interesting, yet not exciting enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are a few "surprises", but they aren't as shocking as the filmmaker's want them to be. Since Ellen's never truly in danger of losing her life, we're basically left wondering what's going to happen to Bud. All I can say is that payback's a bitch and it's worth watching to the end to see that slick smile wiped off his face. Stylish art direction and vibrant cinematography add much needed class and flair to an otherwise by the numbers thriller. A KISS BEFORE DYING brings nothing new to its genre, but should satisfy those looking for a little murder and mystery to help pass the time.

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