A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956). Director: Gerd Oswald. NOTE: Some plot details are discussed in this review.
Okay adaptation of Ira Levin's suspense novel features Robert Wagner as a charming sociopathic killer who shoves his pregnant girlfriend (Joanne Woodward) off of a roof and then zeros in on her equally wealthy sister (Virginia Leith). Mary Astor is pretty much wasted as Wagner's mother; Jeffrey Hunter offers an odd performance as a pipe-smoking junior detective; and George Macready is positively weird – like Igor in one of the Frankenstein movies – as Leith and Woodward's cold-hearted father. The CinemaScope photography is very good, although Oswald often employs very, very long takes [often the fashion in wide-screen movies of the period] which aren't very cinematic. However, the movie is entertaining and suspenseful, and Wagner's performance is smooth if not outstanding. [The bad remake starring Matt Dillon makes little sense, as Dillon already seems like a hoodlum before he commits a single murder.] It's hard to tell which murder is more disturbing: Woodward's high-story plunge, or the shooting death of the disk jockey that Wagner frames for the murder even as the frightened young man (Robert Quarry) pleads for his life. Woodward is as good as ever and Leith is more than adequate.
Verdict: Intriguing, if imperfect, thriller. ***.