A KISS BEFORE DYING/DIAL M FOR MURDER: A FESTIVE DOUBLE BILL OF MURDER MYSTERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
A KISS BEFORE DYING. (1956) BASED ON THE DEBUT 1953 NOVEL BY IRA LEVIN. DIRECTED BY GERD OSWALD.
STARRING ROBERT WAGNER, JOANNE WOODWARD AND MARY ASTOR.
DIAL M FOR MURDER. (1954) BASED ON THE 1952 PLAY BY FREDERICK KNOTT. SCREENPLAY BY FREDERICK KNOTT. DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK.
STARRING RAY MILLAND, GRACE KELLY, ROBERT CUMMINGS, JOHN WILLIAMS AND ANTHONY DAWSON.
I watch these two cracking murder mysteries every Christmas, even though they have nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever. And I always watch ’em back-to-back as well, because of the similarities between them and the fact that they each have leading men with murder in mind heading up the proceedings. Let’s look at them now in more detail. After you, gentle readers…!
A KISS BEFORE DYING is an American film noir in colour, if you please, and DIAL M FOR MURDER is a detective movie superbly filmed in 3-D, which is quite impressive given how old it is. A KISS BEFORE DYING could so easily have been filmed by Hitchcock, I always think. It’s almost more Hitchcock than Hitchcock himself. Maybe Gerd Oswald (this was his directorial debut) was a fan!
In A KISS BEFORE DYING, Robert Wagner (who later starred alongside Stephanie Powers as the handsome charismatic billionaire Jonathan Hart in ‘Eighties drama series HART TO HART) plays the leading male, college boy Bud Corliss. Bud’s devastating good looks are equalled only by his devious mind and sleight of hand when it comes to solving the number one problem in his life.
He’s knocked up his girlfriend, fellow college student Dory, see? Her future hubby Paul Newman might have had summat to say about that, haha. Anyway, Dory is thrilled about the pregnancy because she adores the criminally handsome Bud and also wants to get away from her overbearing millionaire father. She hears wedding bells and is clingy and needy to an irritating degree.
Bud, however, as he’s been courting Dory only for her Daddy’s moolah, is horrified by the news of the impending visit of the stork. He smells a disinheriting in the air for Dory and sees all his cunning plans for self-enrichment coming to nothing. He concocts a plan so fiendish it’s actually hard to watch it unfold on the screen. It’s also, to my mind, needlessly complicated.
If he’d only just married the bloody girl, her Pops would’ve come round in the end! But no, he has to weave a web so tangled that surely it’s only a matter of time before he gets caught up in it himself…
The book on which the film is based was written by Ira Levin, who also wrote ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, so you know the film is gonna be good. The 1991 re-make of the film starring Matt Dillon and Sean Young is actually excellent as well.
DIAL M FOR MURDER is set in a marvellously British London and has an older but no less handsome and charming Ray Milland as the leading man with murder in mind, former tennis star Tony Wendice.
His beautiful wife Margot, played by Grace Kelly, one of Hitchcock’s favourite blonde leading ladies, has been more or less flaunting her affair with American mystery writer Mark Halliday, for which sin he plans to bump her off. Plus she has a nice few bob in the bank as well, which will definitely come in handy for Tony, who’s a bit strapped for cash at the moment.
Tony’s own plan is no less needlessly complicated than Bud Corliss’s. Furthermore, he even engages an outside party to do his murder for him, a circumstance practically guaranteed to foul things up.
The scene in which he positively bamboozles poor old petty crook Captain Lesgate with his double-talk and sinister threats is probably the best one in the film. It certainly shows us just how determined the evil Tony is to get what he wants. He was a brilliant actor, Ray Milland.
The plan goes equally spectacularly awry in the 1998 re-make of the film, A PERFECT MURDER, starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen. It’s a f***ing terrible plan, haha, and so is Bud Corliss’s. Too many variables, as the fella says. Too many flippin’ imponderables. Way too many things that can, and do, go wrong.
My favourite character here, beside Tony Wendice himself, is the absolutely super-British Chief Inspector Hubbard, whose valiant attempts to finger the real villain in DIAL M FOR MURDER provide entertainment and some rather spiffing bursts of dialogue.
It’s a film linked together with latchkeys (none of which are on nice sensible key-rings, by the way!), ladies’ stockings and handbags and, together with A KISS BEFORE DYING, will make perfect festive viewing for the older members of the family. And remember, folks, not every super-villain wears tights and funny face-paint, you know. Some are right under your nose the whole time…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
You can contact Sandra at: