Dressed to Kill (1980)
Frustrated Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is murdered by a mysterious blonde not long after visiting psychiatrist Dr Elliot (Michael Caine). A prostitute who witnessed the murder (Nancy Allen) teams up with Kate’s son (Keith Gordon) to track down the killer and establish a motive to the apparently random act of violence.
Brian De Palma helms his most blatant homage to Hitchcock. This is a plodding movie with scarcely an ounce of originality in its script, but electrified by elaborate stage pieces and skill behind the camera.
Like PSYCHO (1960) the main female protagonist is brutally killed after only 30 mins or so. Like Psycho, our killer is a cross-dressing schizophrenic. Like Psycho we have a brutal shower murder and finally like Psycho a psychiatrist sums it all up for everyone at end.
But De Palma goes a lot further in this Hitchcock love session. Angie Dickinson’s beautifully choreographed scene in a museum is intensely reminiscent of VERTIGO (1958) and the killer’s outfit is a fusion of the typical Hitchcock blonde and the black-clad murderers of the giallo genre.
The lift murder, the museum sequence – one of the best examples of how to illicit tension with absolutely no dialogue – and the final shower scene are truly unforgettable pieces of film-making. De Palma’s approach to these scenes bursts with bravado and there is an operatic feel to them.
The cast are not the focus of attention for De Palma given the film comes close to a lecture on the technical nature of a suspense movie. Angie Dickinson is nevertheless impressive in her limited screen time whilst Michael Caine goes through the motions in a mostly unimaginative if dutiful performance. Keith Gordon does a solid job as Kate’s geeky son.
One of the displeasing aspects of the movie is that De Palma jettisons responsibility for any surprises in the narrative. The identity of the murderer – and their reasoning – is plainly obvious not long after 60 minutes. The viewer is hence left to observe the director’s fabled sorcery of technique but nothing more.
At the end of the day, DRESSED TO KILL seems more like a fan-film for students of Hitchcock than an out-and-out thriller intended for general consumption. Because of that, it cannot conjure up an extremely high score. But for me it’s a exemplar piece of visual cinema – you can watch it without any sound at all and the effect would be the same – that warrants repeated viewings.
Hotdog rating: 7/10 (for Hitchcock affectionados like me it’s a 9).