Friday, May 25, 2012

A Kiss Before Dying. B+

A cinemascope college noir from the fifties, A Kiss Before Dying has familiar elements but is nevertheless a pretty unique entry in the genre. First of all, as mentioned, it's a widescreen color movie, which is pretty rare for pre-1960s film noir. And then, its main setting is at a university, where a lean, James Dean-type decides he needs to kill his girlfriend. I can't off the top of my head think of any other college noirs, which makes A Kiss Before Dying stand out, regardless of its story. There's certainly an idyllic image of the 1950s American university, and this film paints that picture perfectly. But then contrast this with the bleak nature of the film and the effect is fantastic. The other thing that surprised me was just how good this movie looked, not just because of the cinemascope but because of its visual language. The director, Gerd Oswald, never really garnered much acclaim, but he uses the camera really nicely here, evident from the beginning with a three minute plus establishing shot. The cast is also excellent, with Robert Wagner in the lead, Joanne Woodward as his girlfriend, and Virginia Leith as her sister. It's funny. Watching this film I felt I was seeing something pretty familiar, yet for a 1956 movie it's actually pretty original, fresh, and daring. It even uses a plot trick that seemed shocking in Play Misty For Me, released nearly twenty years later. This is a good film, good enough to warrant 1991 remake with Matt Dillon. This isn't the case of reproducing a flop. It's more getting people familiar with a story from a movie not enough people ever saw.

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