Literature / 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's pregnant with his child, Bud kills Dorothy and makes 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, though it eliminates the third sister as well. Matt Dillon plays Jonathan Corliss and Sean Young plays twins Ellen and Dorothy Carlsson. In this version, Dorothy is killed by Jonathan during the first few minutes of the film, and at the end, Jonathan is run over by a train after Ellen learns the truth.

Tropes in these works:

  • Adapted Out: The third sister Marion, in both films.
  • Cartwright Curse: Thor Carlsson has a family version of this—he's outlived his wife, his son, and one of his daughters (two if you count the third sister in the book).
  • Dead Person Impersonation: In the 1991 film, Jonathan murders the driver who picks him up while hitchhiking and assumes his identity. It's never seen onscreen, but given (a) what the viewer already knows of Jonathan's murderous personality, and (b) that he's using the man's name and reciting the identical story that the man told him (that he has no relatives, having lost his parents in a plane crash), it's obvious what's happened.
  • Death by Irony: In the 1956 film, Bud perishes when he falls into a copper pit during a visit to the plant while (a) trying to kill Ellen and (b) evade the cops. This was the original ending for the 1991 film, but test audiences hated it, so a an ending was reshot that offered an Ironic Echo of the film's beginning—Jonathan is shown 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.
  • Finally Found the Body: In the 1991 film, when Patricia Fearing's remains wash up a year after she went missing. Ellen realizes that this is one too many horrifying coincidences and finally begins to seriously suspect Jonathan knows more than he's telling.
  • Gold Digger/Social Climber: Jonathan.
  • He Knows Too Much: Or "they", rather. Jonathan kills everyone—Tommy, Patricia—who can tell Ellen that he's the one Dorothy was dating before she supposedly killed herself, and tries to kill Ellen when she finds out everything.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Or suicide, rather. How Jonathan kills Dorothy and her ex-boyfriend Tommy when the latter is about to reveal his identity to Ellen.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Jonathan, 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.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: How Jonathan meets his demise.
  • The Remake: The 1991 film.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Determined to marry into the Carlsson family, Jonathan decides one sister is as good as the other after killing Dorothy. Ellen and Dorothy being twins certainly helps.
  • Shower of Love: Jonathan and Ellen.
  • The Sociopath: Jonathan, also hands down.
  • Villain Protagonist: Although Ellen is a very close second, Jonathan is arguably the main character.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Jonathan's murder of the hitchiker and assumption of his identity is based on the murder of Phillip Fraser

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