Dressed to Kill (1980) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
thumbs up for genre lovers.
Scoopy's comments in white
I guess it is fair to say that this De Palma film is indebted to Hitchcock in general, and to Psycho in particular. After all,
... and probably many other Hitchcovian details which I missed or am forgetting at the moment.
took some critical punches at the time, not because the film was an
homage to Psycho, but because he didn't go far enough beyond it. I'm
not sure if that is a fair criticism. There is an element of truth to
it, but I don't think it is a criticism of anything integral to your
enjoyment of the film. The plot is really nothing special. Even if it
were completely original and owed no debt to Hitchcock, it would be
obvious enough that you'd pick up on the main secret before it was
revealed to you, but I don't think that the basic concept and the
major plot details are the elements that make this film so
In fact, even if I told you every single detail of every scene, describing all the cuts and the camera angles ... oh, hell, even if you read the entire shooting script .... you'd still get a kick out of watching the movie. That's the contribution of a truly remarkable director. Brian De Palma was the writer and the director, and you may not be that impressed with his writing, although it has strong elements, but his direction here is simply masterful.
is an absolute lesson in how to storyboard the kind of film that is
essentially created in the editing room. The scenes are so complex
that they bear no resemblance to real-time filming action. Show
murderer in reflection, show victim in reflection, then show victim,
then murderer, then switch to POV shots - witness, murderer, victim,
then cut to the unbloodied knife gleaming, victim's eyes, elevator
floor lights, then elevator floor lights bloodied, then knife
bloodied, and I'm forgetting the half of it, because I'm obviously no
match for De Palma on how these scenes should be laid out. He is an
absolute workaholic when it comes to the meticulous craftsmanship of
his visuals, and you would never be able to see where it's all going
until he's finished editing. The snippets of actual real-time footage
don't mean much of anything.
Second, he and his musical composer did a spectacular job at creating the aural accompaniment the accentuates the film's tension. While De Palma copied some tactics from Hitchcock, just about everyone in the past twenty years has copied the way he did it here. In fact, he was so good, so many people have imitated it, that it seems all too familiar watching it 20 years later, and that has cost it some of its edge.
Third, the individual scenes are a joy to watch for many reasons in addition to the layout. The characterizations, the camera angles, the acting, the sexy visuals, the naughty dialogue ...
Fourth, the film holds your attention even after you figure out almost all of the main details, because it never stops surprising you with some unexpected minor details, so that you can forgive even the cliched and obvious epilogue.
Fifth, the silent scene with Angie Dickinson wandering around the art museum, dancing a tango of seduction with a black clad Mastroianni-like character, is one of the most memorable ever filmed. The changes in Angie's attitude, as emphasized by the music and visuals, produce a beautiful stand-alone short story within the main film.In short, you have to see this movie if you consider yourself a film buff. Some film geeks consider it a favorite, while others treat it with a certain condescension, but just about every one of them can describe it scene-by-scene, cut-by-cut.
I don't think it produces the same level of involvement as Blow Out. To me, Blow Out goes beyond its time and its genre to produce a real emotional reaction, and that is a genuine bonus beyond the admiration it generates for its landmark camera set-ups and pacing. On the other hand, Dressed to Kill doesn't want to discuss any serious political issues, or supply any feeling of general paranoia, or provide any heartbreaking overview of the human condition. It doesn't try to turn its characters into archetypes. It just wants you to sit back and enjoy a thrill ride with plenty of unique touches. Toward that end, it marches very successfully.
Note: there are two versions on the DVD, the r-rated and the unrated. Both of them are the same length, and presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. A short featurette on the DVD shows in precise detail how they differ, and also shows the same scenes as pictured in the PG-rated pan&scan 4:3 version which was aired on network TV. That comparison alone is worth a rental.
I mostly agree with him on this one, except that I don't think De Palma was doing a homage to Hitchcock. De Palma admits in the special features that he used some suspense techniques that Hitchcock pioneered, but then Hitchcock is know as the master of suspense. I feel De Palma made his own film, and made it well. He was attacked on three fronts. First, some critics said he did not go far enough beyond Hitchcock. Second, the MPAA gave him fits, so the full version was only released in Europe. And lastly, he was attacked politically as misogynistic and overly violent.
Angie Dickinson definitely shows her buns and a side view of one breast in a dark scene getting out of bed. I am not sure I can tell which shots from the shower scene are Angie and which are the double. Nancy Allen is in a shower scene at the end, but my favorite shot of her is where she is in black lace undies and garters, and her areola is peeking out of the bra. She was nominated for both a Razzie and a Golden Globe for her performance.
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