A Kiss Before Dying Review

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Realising his secret girlfriend Dorothy's pregnancy will sour relations with her ultra-rich father, go-getter Jonathan Corliss cooly kills her to make it look likfe suicide, before swiftly moving in on her twin sister Ellen. All seems to be going to plan until Ellen beomes suspicious and he is forced to kill again.


Ira Levin's novel - already filmed once before in 1956 with Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward — is a fiendishly clever mystery, with one stunning plot twist that simply cannot be transferred to the big screen. This entertaining remake, written and directed by James Dearden, best known as the screenwriter of Fatal Attraction, ends abruptly, however, with the curtailment of about 28 sub-plots that never get resolved, suggesting a film that has had severe problems either in the writing or the production, a film that never really gets finished.

Matt Dillon is a chameleon-like psychopath, raised in dire poverty in ahouse that abuts a railway track, obsessed with the family of copper magnate Max Von Sydow, whose ore trains pass by his cage-like room every minute of the day. As an adult, Dillon plots on murdering his way into Von Sydow's name, wealth and position, although some aspects of his scheme — notably whether or not he is responsible for the often talked about but never shown death of Von Sydow's son — remain annoyingly vague even beyond the fade-out.

It opens stunningly with Dillon meeting Von Sydow's daughter Sean Young to get married, then luring her up on the roof of a skyscraper to fake her suicide. Enter Young again, as a socially-conscious twin sister, whom Dillon, in an entirely new personality, sets out to woo and win, gradually transferring his attentions from the daughter to the father, hoping to get into the family's boardroom as well as bedroom.

And then, just as the mystery seems about to unravel, a literal deus ex macbina trundles along and finishes it all off. If A Kiss Before Dying works at all, it's thanks to Dillon's subtle and plausible nutcase performance, changing each time he has to impress someone different and not too over-the-top in the mad frenzy scenes. And Sean Young is good, too, in both her parts, even if she is perhaps just a touch too old these days to be playing 21-year-olds.

What's missing here though is the novel's trick of being a wonderfully contrived mystery on the surface while underneath lurks an angry and upsetting analysis of class injustice in the USA.