Kiss Before Dying (A)
R2 - United Kingdom - Simply Media
Review written by and copyright: Matthew Crossman (17th March 2016).
The Film

Dorothy Carlson (Sean Young) slips out of her campus digs and surreptitiously meets up with Jonathan Corliss (Matt Dillon). The pair meet at City Hall in Pennsylvania with the plan of getting married without anyone knowing. Dorothy is the daughter of copper mining magnate Thor Carlson (Max von Sydow) who has had her followed and had previous boyfriends investigated by private detectives. When Dorothy and Jonathan arrive they discover the office that deals with marriage licences is closed for lunch. Jonathan suggests that they spend the thirty minutes they have to wait on the roof terrace of the building. Whilst up there Jonathan convinces Dorothy to sit on the ledge above the atrium of the building. Dorothy talks about how her Father may disown her once she is married. Then, suddenly, Jonathan pushes Dorothy off the ledge and she falls, threw the atrium window many floors below, to her death. Jonathan casually picks up her gold lighter and leaves the scene. As he passes dead body of Dorothy he posts a letter. The letter, which the police receive, is construed as a suicide note. This information is relayed to Thor and Dorothy’s twin sister Ellen (also played by Sean Young). Ellen is unconvinced that Dorothy killed herself and believes that her sister was murdered. Later on Thor and Ellen discover that Dorothy was pregnant. Six months later and Ellen still cannot cope with her sister’s death and vows to prove that she was murdered. Ellen travels to Pennsylvania and tracks down one of Dorothy’s associates at the University who tells Ellen about one of Dorothy’s boyfriends, Tommy. Ellen manages to find him. He tells Ellen that Dorothy and he had stopped seeing each other some six months before her death and that Dorothy had taken up with another student. Tommy says he does not know his name but will probably recognise him from an old year book he has. Tommy takes Ellen to his rented room and whilst Ellen waits in the car Tommy goes to his room to seek out the year book. Tommy finds the picture of Jonathan in the year book and as he leaves to tell Ellen he is surprised by Jonathan who strangles Tommy to death. Jonathan then arranges Tommy in a way to suggest suicide and leaves a suicide not on Tommy’s computer before making his escape. Later we seen Ellen as she prepares for bed. Dozing off on the sofa the intercom chimes and when she opens the door Jonathan stands before her. Only now he has assumed the identity of Jay Faraday, a man whom picked up Jonathan when he was hitchhiking. Ellen is smitten with Jay and arranges for him to me Thor, her Father. Jonathan, now Jay, uses his charms to ingratiate himself with Thor and not long after Ellen and Jay are married. Initially the couple seem happy then one evening Jay/Jonathan is recognised by an old school friend and the seeds of doubt are planted in Ellen’s mind. She starts to dig into her Husband’s past until finally she discovers the truth but by then Jay/Jonathan has realised what his Wife is up to.

‘A Kiss Before Dying’ was a novel by Ira Levin first published in 1953. It won the Edgar award for best novel the following year. The book was first filmed in 1956 starring Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Virginia Leith , Joanne Woodward and Mary Astor. This version of the book is relatively faithful to it’s source unlike this 1991 version which attempts to bring the novel into the (then) modern day. This, the latest version of the story features a more convoluted plot in which Jonathan’s rhyme and reason behind his crimes are not truly revealed until the closing moments. I would like to say that his reasons behind murdering several people have some sort of grand design but it turns out that, really, deep down, he’s just a psychopathic maniac. Matt Dillon performs well in the role and brings a sleazy charm to his performance. Sadly the same cannot be said about Sean Young. Whilst Young is attractive her acting abilities are not. She seems to have just one expression whether it be to portray sadness, happiness, lust or disgust. Max von Sydow brings some gravitas to the proceedings but ultimately he has very little screen time. It was interesting to learn that much of what was shot was filmed in Britain, especially the area of Hertfordshire which I am well acquainted with. Whilst ‘A Kiss Before Dying’ is not a failure it’s neither a success either. The film has a big budget gloss to it but there is very little underneath the surface once it is scratched. Characterisation is kept to a bare minimum and this is a tad disappointing especially in regards to Jonathan’s character. James Dearden handles the directing and script writing chores and does a capable job it just, especially when compared to other ‘noir’ films, both recent and past, ‘A Kiss Before Dying’ falls just short. Incidentally this was the last Universal film to use the 75th Anniversary logo. That’s just for you, trivia fans!


The film is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (anamorphic). I was pleasantly surprised by the picture quality on view. Whilst the palette used by the director initially seems dull when vibrant colours are used they stand out well. Trees, lipstick, dresses all come across very well. The picture can be deemed to be a little soft in places but overall the definition is of a good standard for DVD. The blacks are reasonably deep with no hint of grain I’m quite happy with this presentation of a film that is now 25 years old.


The only audio choice is the English language Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 option. This option is more than acceptable and notably strong when listening to Howard Shore’s sweeping score. I get the impression that Shore re-used much of the score from ‘Silence of The Lambs’ (also 1991) as at times the two almost seem interchangeable. Still, regardless of whether Howard pulled a fast one on Universal or not it’s well presented. There are no subtitles.




Whilst not the best of it’s genre, ‘A Kiss Before Dying’ is a decent attempt at filming Ira Levin’s novel. The lack of depth to the script is a shame, especially as the film only runs for just over 90 minutes, but the real down point is the performance of Sean Young. Normally this may have not been too much of a problem but as she plays two characters (Dorothy and Ellen) and has more on screen time than any other cast member the audience is constantly reminded of her wooden acting performance. She is the only real weak link though and the movie will provide a decent night’s entertainment.

The Film: B- Video: B Audio: B- Extras: F Overall: B-


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