Saturday, April 27, 2019

DRESSED TO KILL (1980) Blu-ray review

Dressed to Kill (1980) d. Brian De Palma (105 min)

Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is frustrated in her marriage, but as she is devoted to her son Peter (Keith Gordon), she is reluctant to consider divorce and instead seeks solace on the comfortable couch of her understanding high-end psychiatrist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine). After an unexpected midday tryst concludes in tragic fashion, Kate’s world unexpectedly collides with that of Park Avenue call girl Liz (Nancy Allen), no-nonsense police detective Marino (Dennis Franz), and a dangerous, trenchcoat-wearing homicidal killer armed with a straight razor.

Having successfully delivered his reinterpretation of Vertigo with 1976’s Obsession (and emboldened by the successes of Carrie and The Fury), De Palma sharpened his knives to tackle Alfred Hitchcock’s best-known creation, Psycho, and, for the most part, he succeeds in delivering both homage and companion piece.

With cameras adroitly weaving hither and yon throughout his own smirkingly thorny script (kudos to Ralf Bode’s high-wire cinematography), the writer/director performs a multitude of magic tricks, misdirection, and sleight-of-hand. (Witness how many mirrors and reflective surfaces are utilized over the course of this melodrama about duality and division, not to mention the oodles of split diopter shots employed, filling our brains with information courtesy of deep and shallow focused subjects.)

The wordless Metropolitan Museum of Art sequence is rightfully celebrated as one of De Palma’s high-water marks, and the way he shifts narrative focus from Dickinson’s storyline to that of Allen’s (his then-wife) is supremely satisfying.

An enormous hit in its day, the clunky vilifying of transsexuality is the one element that has not aged well in our more aware and (hopefully) empathetic environment. Comparing the similar storyline with that of Hitchcock’s 1960 chiller, it’s interesting to note the difference between the concept of gender dysphoria and that of taking on another person’s identity of a different gender.

The bookending shower sequences (the former employing the god-given talents of Penthouse Pet Victoria Johnson, standing in for Dickinson) manage to be both erotic and suspenseful, and all the performers are at the top of their game, especially Dickinson who manages to convey a flurry of conflicting emotions on her delicately lined features. Caine is effortlessly charming, Allen delivers possibly her best work as a beguiling sex worker whose delectable frame conceals a stockbroker heart, Gordon is appealingly wise beyond his years, and Franz perfects his patented cynical, tough-talking, wise-guy cop persona.

Pino Donaggio’s score, his third of eight for De Palma, is also worth mentioning, nimbly evoking Bernard Herrmann’s iconic Psycho strings and stings without copying them.


New, restored 4K digital transfer of director Brian De Palma’s preferred unrated version, supervised by the director, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray

New conversation between De Palma and filmmaker Noah Baumbach (20 min)

New interviews with actor Nancy Allen, producer George Litto, composer Pino Donaggio, shower-scene body double Victoria Lynn Johnson, and poster photographic art director Stephen Sayadian

"The Making of Dressed to Kill" documentary (44 min)

New profile of cinematographer Ralf Bode, featuring filmmaker Michael Apted (12 min)

Interview with actor-director Keith Gordon from 2001 (31 min)

"Slashing Dressed to Kill" documentary short showing different versions of the film and the cuts made to avoid an X rating (10 min)

Gallery of storyboards by De Palma

Theatical trailer

Essay by critic Michael Koresky

Dressed to Kill is available now on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and can be ordered HERE:


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