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A KISS BEFORE DYING ($20) isn't your typical 1950's movie, and it certainly isn't the type of movie you'd expect from squeaky-clean leading man Robert Wagner. With the implication of premarital sex, the use of the word "pregnant" and a rather shocking murder scene, A KISS BEFORE DYING was a very adult film for the mid-1950s, a time when the motion picture industry still was in the throes of censorship. As for Robert Wagner, he made a very smart choice by accepting such a dark role in this noir-ish thriller. Utilizing his squeaky-clean screen persona as a cover, Wagner portrays a character whose outward appearance is that of the all American boy, but who is in reality a cold, calculating schemer not above committing brutal murder to get him everything he wants out of life.

Adapted from the novelette by Ira Levin, A KISS BEFORE DYING tells the story of the seemingly typical All American Boy Bud Corliss (Wagner), who attends college on the GI Bill. Budís girlfriend Dorothy (Joanne Woodward) comes from a wealthy family, but once her puritanical father learns that she is pregnant; she will be cut off from her inheritance. Although Bud had every intention of marrying Dorothy (for her money), the proposition isnít quite as appealing when he realizes she is going to be penniless. Thus, Bud hatches a plot to murder Dorothy and make it look like suicide. After the deed is done, Bud turns his attention to Ellen (Virginia Leith), another wealthy heiress whom he sees as his ticket easy street. However, Budís plans may come crashing down around him when the police reopen the investigation into Dorothyís death. The cast of A KISS BEFORE DYING also features Jeffrey Hunter, Mary Astor, George Macready and Robert Quarry.

MGM Home Entertainment has made A KISS BEFORE DYING available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays (a separate full screen version is available on the opposite side of the disc for those with an interest in such things). This is really a super looking wide screen presentation of this vintage Cinemascope film. There are almost no blemishes on the film element to give away the age of the movie. In general, the image is very crisp and very nicely defined, doing full justice to Lucien Ballard's cinematography. It is only the optical fades and other transitions that look a bit dicey. Colors are fairly vivid and exceedingly well rendered for a deLuxe movie from this period. There are no problems with chroma noise or smearing, although there are some color inconsistencies during the filmís opticals. Blacks appear solid, whites are clean and the image has very smooth contrast. Digital compression artifacts are well camouflaged throughout the presentation.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is in pretty good condition and generally pleasant. There is a mild crackle on one or two brief spots on the soundtrack, as well as a slight inconsistency in the volume level, but otherwise the sound is fine. Dialogue is always completely understandable and the actorsí voices come through rather nicely. The filmís score has a nice jazzy quality that matches noir-ish quality quite well, and despite the limited fidelity of these nearly half-century-old recordings, the music actually sounds pretty darn good. French and Spanish language tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

I really like A KISS BEFORE DYING, and while some may find it to be an overblown noir-ish potboiler, I think there is something rather unique about this dark and cynical 50ís production. A KISS BEFORE DYING also offered leading man Robert Wagner the most atypical role of his career, which he carries off exceptionally well. MGMís wide screen presentation looks terrific, making this disc something that movie buffs are going to want to own.



A Kiss Before Dying (1956)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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