AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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A Kiss Before Dying
Director: Gerd Oswald (Dir)
Release Date:   Jun 1956
Production Date:   early Jun--7 Jul 1955 at RKO-Pathé Studios
Duration (in mins):   94-95
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Robert Wagner (Bud Corliss)  
    Jeffrey Hunter (Gordon Grant)  
    Virginia Leith (Ellen Kingship)  
    Joanne Woodward (Dorothy Kingship)  
    Mary Astor (Mrs. Corliss)  
    George Macready (Leo Kingship)  
    Robert Quarry (Dwight Powell)  
    Howard Petrie (Howard Chesser)  
    Bill Walker (Butler)  
    Molly McCart (Annabelle)  
    Marlene Felton (Medical student)  

Summary: In Arizona, attractive but rapacious Stoddard University student Bud Corliss learns from his girl friend, Dorothy Kingship, that she is two months pregnant. Although Bud assures Dorothy, whom he affectionately calls “Doree,” that he will take care of her, he hesitates when Dorothy insists on marrying, knowing that marriage will estrange her from her conservative father Leo, owner of the prestigious Kingship Copper Mines, whose wealth Bud covets. Dorothy insists they can have a successful marriage without her father’s approval or the family money and Bud reluctantly agrees to wed in a few days. At home, Bud refrains from discussing his situation with his dedicated mother, who, like the Kingships, has no knowledge of his relationship with Dorothy. Bud then visits the library and after reading about various poisons, sneaks into the chemistry building where he steals several toxic powders that he places into capsules. Over the next couple of days, Bud convinces Dorothy to return a picture of him that he had given her and has her write out a translation of a melodramatic apology from Spanish into English. Later, Bud mails the translated note to Leo and offers the unsuspecting Dorothy the capsules, insisting they are vitamin pills recommended by a friend who works in a pharmacy. On bidding Dorothy goodnight that evening, Bud asks her to keep their wedding plans a secret from her sister Ellen and she agrees. The next morning Bud is stunned when Dorothy appears in class. Feigning illness, Bud hurries from class to the post office in a frantic and unsuccessful effort to recover the note. Although distressed, Bud later calls Dorothy to reconfirm their plans to wed the next day. Delighted, Dorothy agrees to meet Bud at the multi-storied building just after noon. The next day, Bud and Dorothy discover the marriage bureau is closed for lunch, prompting Bud to suggest that they go to the roof to look at the view. While sitting on a ledge, Dorothy admits she did not take the pills and apologizes for suspecting that Bud intended to hurt the baby. Bud tenderly forgives her and then pushes Dorothy off the roof to her death. A few days later, Police Chief Howard Chesser and his nephew, assistant professor Gordon Grant, meet with Leo and Ellen to report that a cursory investigation supports that Dorothy committed suicide. Gordon tells Leo that, as Dorothy’s tutor and acquaintance, he did not believe her capable of suicide, but Leo, apprehensive of scandal tainting the family name, refuses to authorize an in-depth investigation. Before departing, Gordon offers Ellen sympathy and help should she want to learn more about Dorothy’s death. Several months later, Bud has established a relationship with Ellen, who remains unaware of his involvement with Dorothy. One afternoon, Ellen receives a package from one of Dorothy’s sorority sisters containing Dorothy’s belt and a note informing her that Dorothy had borrowed her friend’s belt the day she died. Cancelling a date with Bud that evening, Dorothy meets with Gordon to confide that receiving the belt made her realize that the day Dorothy died she had intentionally fulfilled the romantic wedding day tradition of wearing something old, new, borrowed and blue. When Gordon acts puzzled, Ellen declares her long-held suspicion that her sister was murdered. Ellen insists that they must learn the identity of Dorothy’s secret boyfriend, whom she had mentioned vaguely in letters. While Gordon agrees to arrange a meeting with Chesser, Ellen gains permission to look through registration cards of Dorothy’s university classes. Based on Dorothy’s brief description of dating an English major who was tall and slender, Ellen deduces that athletic Dwight Powell was Dorothy’s beau. Unknown to Ellen, Bud, upon receiving her message earlier, has followed her to the campus. Later when Ellen meets Dwight to confront him, the young man hesitates before admitting that he had dated Dorothy briefly and feared their break-up might have in some way provoked her suicide. Dwight insists he never called Dorothy “Doree” as her letter to Ellen claimed, then recalls Dorothy invited him to a party at the house of her new boyfriend, and offers to provide Ellen with the address. Ellen accompanies Dwight to his dormitory for the information and as she waits downstairs in the lounge, Dwight is surprised in his room by Bud, who types a suicide message for Dwight that admits to murdering Dorothy. Bud then shoots Dwight and escapes in the ensuing commotion. A couple of days later, a confident Bud proposes to Ellen and she accepts. Determined to sustain the fragile relationship with his daughter, Leo approves and arranges a party to announce the engagement. During the party, Gordon stops by to tell Ellen that he has discovered that Dwight was an active tennis player who was competing in Mexico City the day of Dorothy’s death. As Gordon departs, Ellen introduces him to Bud and, recognizing him as a student, Gordon drives down the road where he calls Chesser and asks him to check on a connection between Bud and Dorothy. Gordon returns to the Kingships’, where he privately tells Leo that it is suspicious that Bud has never mentioned attending the university or knowing Dorothy. Ellen interrupts and refuses to believe Gordon, presuming that Leo has encouraged him in order to discredit Bud. The next day Ellen takes Bud out to the copper works and gets him to admit that he knew Dorothy. Bud claims he did not tell Ellen about his brief acquaintance with her sister to spare her, but Ellen grows doubtful as she realizes he could easily have followed her to her meeting with Dwight. When Bud accidentally calls Dorothy “Doree,” Ellen realizes that he is the murderer. Back at the Kingship house, Leo and Gordon receive proof from Chesser that Dorothy and Bud frequented a diner for several months. Concerned about Ellen, the men drive to the copper works. Meanwhile, certain that the police do not know of Ellen’s suspicions, Bud attempts to push her off a cliff, but Ellen breaks free. As Leo and Gordon arrive, Bud rushes after Ellen, but is struck by a mine truck and falls to his death. 

Production Company: Crown Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Gerd Oswald (Dir)
  Sid Sidman (Asst dir)
  Ray Gosnell Jr. (2d asst dir)
Producer: Robert L. Jacks (Prod)
  Robert Goldstein (Prod)
Writer: Lawrence Roman (Scr)
Photography: Lucien Ballard (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Addison Hehr (Art dir)
Film Editor: George Gittens (Film ed)
Set Decoration: James Roach (Set dec)
Costumes: Henry Helfman (Ward)
  Evelyn Carruth (Ward)
Music: Lionel Newman (Mus)
  Billy May (Orch)
  Nelson Riddle (Orch)
Sound: Frank Webster (Sd)
  John Myers (Re-rec)
Make Up: Louis Hippe (Makeup artist)
  Kay Shea (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Frank Parmenter (Prod supv)
  Dolores Rubin (Scr supv)
  Millie Gusse (Cast dir)
  Sam Wurtzel (Unit mgr)
  Thomas Conroy (Dial dir)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "A Kiss Before Dying," music by Lionel Newman, lyrics by Carroll Coates, sung by Dolores Hawkins.
Composer: Carroll Coates
  Lionel Newman
Source Text: Based on the novel A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin (New York, 1953).
Authors: Ira Levin

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Crown Productions, Inc. 13/6/1956 dd/mm/yyyy LP6697

PCA NO: 17491
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording
  col: De Luxe
  Widescreen/ratio: CinemaScope

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Suspense
Subjects (Major): Falls from heights
Subjects (Minor): College students
  Copper mines
  Diners (Restaurants)
  Fathers and daughters
  Mothers and sons

Note: A condensed version of the novel A Kiss Before Dying was published in Cosmopolitan in Jul 1953. According to 1953 HR news items, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the story rights and considered casting their contract player Robert Wagner in the lead. A Dec 1954 item indicates that Robert Parrish was under consideration by Crown Productions, Inc. to direct the film for producers Robert Goldstein and Robert L. Jacks.
       Martin Miner was initially cast in the role of "Dwight Powell," but due to schedule changes, Milner was forced to leave the film. A Kiss Before Dying marked the directorial debut of Gerd Oswald. Wagner, Joanne Woodward and Jeffrey Hunter were borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the film. HR production lists add Ann Seaton and Ray Teal to the cast, but her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Teal does not appear in the film. Modern sources add Robert Ivers to the cast. As noted in news items, the film was shot on location in Tucson, AZ. The novel A Kiss Before Dying was also the basis for a 1991 Universal film of the same title that starred Matt Dillon and Sean Young, directed by James Dearden.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   9 Jun 1956.   
Daily Variety   1 Jun 56   p. 3.
Film Daily   12 Jun 56   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Aug 1953   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Aug 1953   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Dec 1954   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Feb 1955   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   17 May 1955.   
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jun 1955   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Jun 1955   p. 6, 13.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jun 1955   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jun 1955   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Jun 1955   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Jun 1955   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jul 1955   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Jul 1955   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jun 56   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   2 Jun 56   p. 922.
Variety   6 Jun 56   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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