A Kiss Before Dying

Oh my gosh – Robert Wagner as a fresh-faced young social climber stars in this 1956 noir (in color which is rare for noir films) available on Amazon.   Co-starring a young Joanne Woodward and a not-so-young Mary Astor, this movie was a complete surprise.   It’s based on a book by Ira Levin, so of course it’s twisty and frightening (he also wrote Rosemary’s Baby, Stepford Wives — you see the theme here), but who knew Robert Wagner could so convincingly play a psychopathic killer (no spoiler – it’s obvious 15 minutes in) – not nuanced or deep but superficial and slick as one would expect.   The downside is the very 50’s use of female stereotypes – innocent young girlfriend (Joanne Woodward), doting and clueless mother (Mary Astor), courageous sister (Virginia Leith – who did a great job although we hadn’t really heard of her).  Fortunately, the talented actors made their roles believable.  For noir fans, the story is exactly as expected — crazy but charming guy commits dastardly murder, convinces all that it was suicide, goes on to date his dead fiancé’s sister, eventually makes a fatal verbal blunder, and meets his in a very implausible twist of fate.  If you’re into noir, it’s Top of Genre – for all other viewers, Good for An Afternoon. 

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