Literature: A Kiss Before Dying

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, 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 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 in these works:

  • California Doubling: The 1991 film. While set in Philadelphia and New York City, it was mostly filmed in London.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: 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 reshoot 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: 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.
  • 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, 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.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Determined to marry into the Carlsson family, Jonathan decides one sister is as good as the other after killing Dorothy.