Thursday, October 08, 2015

Dressed to Kill (1980 film)

Written and directed by Brian De Palma, Dressed to Kill is the story of a murder mystery where the woman’s son, her psychiatrist, and a young prostitute try to figure out who killed her. The film isn’t just about a murder mystery but an exploration into the world of eroticism and why a housewife was killed which was partly due to her own sexual desires. Starring Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, and David Margulies. Dressed to Kill is a sexy yet thrilling film from Brian De Palma.

The film revolves the mysterious murder of a housewife in New York City who was killed just after having a tryst with a man she had just met in order to fulfill her own sexual desires. It’s a film that isn’t just a simple whodunit but also a film that explores the world of sex as it relates to certain desires and what people want. At the same time, it also explores the idea of transsexuality where the killer is suspected to be a transsexual as the housewife’s psychiatrist is also treating a transsexual. Once the housewife had been killed where a young hooker is the only witness, she along with the psychiatrist and the housewife’s genius son each to into their own investigation.

Brian De Palma’s screenplay has a unique structure where the first act is about Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) as she is sexually-frustrated with her marriage as she goes to Metropolitan Museum of Arts where she encounters a man she had seen in her fantasy. While it would be fulfilling, it would have some very serious consequences and an eventual outcome that would set the entire mystery to play out. With the prostitute Liz (Nancy Allen) being the sole witness as she would also be an unfortunate suspect due to carrying the murder weapon. The second act is about the mystery where Liz and Kate’s son Peter (Keith Gordon) both do their own investigation where the latter would use his skills in creating gadgets to stake out the office of his mother’s psychiatrist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine). Dr. Elliott would also be questioned by the police detective Marino (Dennis Franz) who wants access to Dr. Elliott’s files as things become more complicated as it relates to the identity of the killer who is a patient of Dr. Elliott with the name Bobbi.

The character of Bobbi raises a lot of question of transsexuality where Dr. Elliott would reveal to Marino that Bobbi is a man that wants to be a woman as he tries to tell him to not go with this sex change. It adds to this sex of intrigue into the world of sex while there all of these little details that De Palma uses in the script that plays into the dangers of infidelity as well as the world of unprotected sex. In some ways, it is De Palma making a bit of commentary over the drawbacks of the sexual revolution in the age where sexually-transmitted diseases are starting to become public just before the era of AIDS. Even as it is clear that there’s some very strange motives into what goes on in Kate’s sex life as well as the world of sex itself.

De Palma’s direction is very mesmerizing for the way it emphasizes largely on style but allowing every image and scene to matter. The film opens with this very sexy shower scene where Kate is masturbating in a shower as it plays to a fantasy of Kate wanting to have sex with this man. Yet, it then cuts to reality where she is having very unsatisfying sex with her husband where De Palma’s usage of medium shots and close-up play to Kate’s own boredom in her married life. While the film is set in New York City, it is shot largely in Philadelphia with the exception of a few second-unit shots of NYC as it plays into this world of that is quite dangerous where things are becoming nothing as it seen. Even in the world of sex and such where Kate would meet her fantasy man at the museum where it leads to one of the finest sequences in film with this steadicam tracking shot of these two flirtatiously chasing each other in the museum with very sparse dialogue.

It is among some of the finest sequences in film as well as some of the sexual-driven scenes such as Kate having sex with a man in a cab and the aftermath where it’s about the sense of timing and usage of memory. De Palma’s usage of split-screens help play into that sense of memory as well as a sense of intrigue as it relates to the different investigations held by Dr. Elliott and Liz. De Palma’s approach to suspense is very intense such as a sequence where Liz is being chased by Bobbi in the subway as she also makes trouble with a young gang and a major sequence in the third act. Notably a scene where Liz meets Dr. Elliott where she is hoping to get a record of Bobbi’s identity with the help of Peter. The sense of tension and how De Palma would compose some of the scenes where one character would be in the foreground and the other in the background just adds to this sense of style and intrigue over the mystery of who killed this woman. Overall, De Palma creates an unsettling yet rapturous film about a murder mystery involving transsexual and other forays into the world of sex.

Cinematographer Ralf Bode does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography with its soft yet colorful look of some of the interior/exterior scenes at the museum to the eerie scenes set at night as well some unique lighting and textures for some of the interior/exterior scenes set at night. Editor Jerry Greenberg does brilliant work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, slow-motion, split-screens, and other stylish cuts to play into the suspense and elements of eroticism. Art director Gary Weist and set decorator Gary J. Brink do fantastic work with the look of Dr. Elliott‘s home office as well as the home where Kate and Peter lives in along with the scenes set in the apartment building where Kate would have her tryst.

Costume designer Ann Roth does superb work with the costumes from the clothes that Liz wears to the stylish white dress that Kate wears in the film. Sound editor Dan Sable does nice work with the sound to create some tension in some of the moments of suspense as well as the great usage of cuts and mixing for the museum sequence in the scenes without music. The film’s music by Pino Donaggio is amazing as it is one of the film’s major highlights thanks to its soaring and lush orchestral-based score with its strings to some of the eroticism of the film as well as some more eerie themes for its suspenseful moments.

The casting by Vic Ramos is terrific as it features some notable small performances from David Margulies as a fellow psychiatrist in Dr. Levy, Fred Weber as Kate’s husband Mike, Bill Randolph as a cab driver in a chase scene, William Finley as the voice of Bobbi, and Ken Baker as Kate’s object of desire as the man she would flirt with at the museum. Dennis Franz is superb as the detective Marino who is leading the investigation as he doesn’t trust Liz because of who she is as well as Dr. Elliott because of the information he didn’t want to reveal. Keith Gordon is excellent as Peter Miller as Kate’s son who is an inventor who feels guilty over what happened as he is driven by grief to find out who the killer is as he would also help out Liz in the investigation.

Angie Dickinson is brilliant as Kate Miller as the bored housewife who is sexually-frustrated with her marriage as she would have a tryst with a man who is her ideal fantasy as things would go wrong in its aftermath. Nancy Allen is amazing as Liz Blake as this young prostitute who would witness the murder as she also becomes an unfortunate suspect as she does whatever to help Peter and keep herself out of jail knowing she has done enough trouble in her life. Finally, there’s Michael Caine in a fantastic performance as Dr. Elliott as this psychiatrist who is treating Kate as he learns that one of his patients could be a serial killer who also wants a sex change as it is a very straightforward performance with some unique complexities that makes it very interesting.

Dressed to Kill is a phenomenal film from Brian De Palma. Featuring a great cast as well as some amazing technical feats and Pino Donaggio’s thrilling score. It’s a film that isn’t just a stylish and engaging erotic thriller but also a unique commentary into the downsides of sex and the fallacy of the sexual revolution in the pre-AIDS era. In the end, Dressed to Kill is a spectacular film from Brian De Palma.

Brian De Palma Films: (Murder a la Mod) - (Greetings) - (The Wedding Party) - (Dionysus in ‘69) - (Hi, Mom!) - (Get to Know Your Rabbit) - Sisters - Phantom of the Paradise - Obsession - Carrie - The Fury - (Home Movies) - Blow Out - Scarface - Body Double - (Wise Guys) - The Untouchables - Casualties of War - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Raising Cain - Carlito’s Way - Mission: Impossible - Snake Eyes - Mission to Mars - (Femme Fatale) - The Black Dahlia - (Redacted) - Passion (2012 film) - (Domino (2018 film))

© thevoid99 2015


Anonymous said...

Oh Brian de Palma.

Dell said...

I remember watching this on cable late at night way back when I was a kid. Can't remember the first thing about it, though. Maybe I should revisit it.

thevoid99 said...

@assholeswatchingmovies-Yeah, a man that doesn't get a lot of credit as his good movies are really fucking good and his bad ones are really bad but still interesting than the works of lesser filmmakers.

@Wendell-Maybe you should though it's not really a horror film but a damn good suspense film. Plus, how could you not enjoy breasts in the film though Angie Dickinson's boobs were played by a Penthouse centerfold.

Anonymous said...

You're right on about his good films being REALLY good and his bad ones being REALLY bad...I haven't seen this one, but it's on my watch list!

thevoid99 said...

@Fisti-See this one. I think it's one of his bests. Plus, make sure you see it at night with your pants down. :)

Chris said...

I didn't see the twist coming, so the suspense was maintained. Agree opening scene in the shower has clever editing, and art gallery sequence was a highlight. I remember De Palma did the split-screen in other movies also, an interesting way of showing multiple storylines

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-That is the key to what is a great suspense film as knowing when to play with the audience and create that sense of ambiguity. Plus, the usage of the split-screens I think are inventive and De Palma knows how to use it well. I think if Hitchcock saw what he did, he would probably see De Palma as his greatest student.