“Someone’s trying to kill me, and I need help!”
A sexually frustrated housewife (Angie Dickinson) who has just met with her psychiatrist (Michael Caine) is seduced by a man (Ken Baker) she meets at a museum, then brutally murdered in the elevator as she’s leaving his apartment. A call girl (Nancy Allen) who briefly witnessed Dickinson’s bloodied body is harassed by a detective (Dennis Franz) who considers her a prime suspect, so Allen — who is now herself being pursued by the mysterious killer — enlists the help of Dickinson’s grieving son (Keith Gordon) in determining which of Caine’s clients may have been responsible for the murder.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Amateur Sleuths
- Angie Dickinson Films
- Brian De Palma Films
- Gender Bending
- Horror Films
- Michael Caine Films
- Murder Mystery
- Nancy Allen Films
- Prostitutes and Gigolos
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “almost every character in Brian De Palma’s erotic thriller has a split personality”, with “the person on the outside… not like the person on the inside.” He notes that he thinks “this is De Palma’s best film, one in which [he doesn’t] mind being manipulated” given that “watching De Palma at work turns out to be a lot of fun.” Peary points out that “De Palma does everything with an audience in mind; there’s a great deal of titillation, subtlety, and shocks;” in addition, the “characters are all offbeat and have senses of humor, and all have energy”. He writes that the “dialogue is sharp, but [the] film’s best scenes are visual, relying on editing or a mobile camera, as is the long Hitchcock-like sequence in the museum.”
He concedes that “De Palma does, as usual, borrow from Hitchcock, stylistically and thematically” and “even has two scenes with women in the shower”. [As Richard Scheib of Moria puts it so bluntly in his review, “Dressed to Kill is Brian De Palma’s homage to Psycho. It is clear and obvious and there is no doubt about it.”] Peary adds that “typical of De Palma, the violence is strong, and there’s a dirty-trick ending,” and he points out that De Palma makes “good use of New York locales”. What Peary fails to mention is the highly questionable use of a “troubled transvestite” as the killer; click here to read a recent analysis of the film from that standpoint (but be forewarned that spoilers abound). And click here to read an even more forthright denouncement of the film, written to the movie itself rather than to De Palma.
Most memorable-while-darkly-amusing scene: Dickinson casually riffling through her new lover’s drawers and finding documentation of something truly horrific.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Nancy Allen as Liz
- Angie Dickinson as Kate
- Michael Caine as Dr. Elliott
- Keith Gordon as Peter
- The spectacularly filmed “museum sequence”
- Clever, atmospheric cinematography
- Many freaky moments
- Pino Donaggio’s score
Yes, once, for the masterful direction.