Classic Movies · Movies · Stuff You Should Know

A kiss before dying


When I heard the news of country singer Hank Thompson’s passing, I mentioned it to my father who, I was pretty certain, would be familiar as to who Thompson was (in the past, when I’ve informed him of a celebrity obit, it’s not uncommon for him to say: “Huh?”). He shook his head sadly and remarked: “We’re losing way too many of the good ones.”

We’ve just lost another. Ira Levin, the best-selling author of Rosemary’s Baby and The Boys from Brazil, has passed on at the age of 78.

Levin wrote a good many best-selling novels which will be remembered by future generations for the simple reason that that several of them were adapted for the silver screen. In addition to the aforementioned Baby (directed by Roman Polanski in 1968) and Brazil (1978), there were A Kiss Before Dying (in both 1956 and a 1991 remake), The Stepford Wives (1975 and 2004) and Sliver (1993). His long-running stage play, Deathtrap, was also brought to the big screen in 1982, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring the late Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine. His other stage work included the Broadway adaptation of No Time for Sergeants (1955), which made a star out of comedian/actor Andy Griffith (and who starred in the 1958 film version). He also dabbled in television, writing for such Golden Age series as Lights Out and The United States Steel Hour.

Mary Astor, Virginia Leith, and Robert Wagner in A Kiss Before Dying (1956), adapted from Ira Levin’s book.

Critics were lukewarm as to the merits of Levin’s literary output; a Newsweek reporter once compared his books to a bag of popcorn (“Utterly without nutritive value and probably fattening, yet there’s no way to stop once you’ve started.”). But I think Levin deserves a tremendous amount of credit for Rosemary’s Baby, which is one of the few movies to remain faithful to its literary source…and is one of the damndest scariest films I’ve ever seen.

R.I.P., Ira. You will be missed.

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