A Kiss Before Dying

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A Kiss Before Dying is a 1953 novel written by Ira Levin. The book is about a young man named Bud Corliss who meets Dorothy Kingship, the daughter of a wealthy copper tycoon. Once she finds out she was pregnant with his child, Bud kills Dorothy in order to make it look like a suicide. He then hooks up with Dorothy's sister Ellen. When Ellen finds out that he murdered Dorothy, Bud kills Ellen. He then dates the last of the sisters, Marion. Bud's deception is eventually revealed and falls to his death into a vat of molten copper.

The book has been filmed twice. The first, made in 1956, stars Robert Wagner as Bud, Virginia Leith as Ellen, and Joanne Woodward as Dorothy. This version eliminates the third sister Marion.

The second, made in 1991, is completely different. Matt Dillon plays Jonathan Corliss and Sean Young plays twins Ellen and Dorothy Carlsson. In this version, Dorothy was killed by Jonathan during the first few minutes of the film, and at the end, Jonathan was run over by a train after Ellen learned the truth.

Tropes used in A Kiss Before Dying include:


  • Acting for Two: Sean Young as twins Ellen and Dorothy, even though they're never onscreen together.
  • Complete Monster: Jonathan, hands down.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Sort of. The beginning of the 1991 film shows Jonathan as a little boy watching the Carlsson trains going past his house, fueling his obsession with marrying into the family. At the end, in his desperate attempt to kill Ellen after she learns his secret, he chases her onto the train tracks--she's able to get out of the way, while he isn't.
  • The Film of the Book: Two of them.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Jonathan, also hands down. It's almost sad that he didn't use his penchant for hard work and genuine intelligence for good, rather than pure evil.