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Dressed to Kill
1980 - R - 105 Mins.
Director: Brian DePalma
Written By: Brian DePalma
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz
Review by: John Ulmer
I imagine that if Hitchcock had lived to make an erotic murder mystery, it would look an awful lot like "Dressed to Kill" (1980), one of the most blatant copycat thrillers ever crafted -- right down to the re-creation of Hitchcock's infamous 'Psycho' shower scene ('Dressed ti Kill' re-creation takes place inside an elevator).

Directed by Brian DePalma ("Scarface," "The Untouchables"), "Dressed to Kill" is both frustratingly simple and predictable. But it's also very enjoyable.

Hitchcock always began with substance and let his work evolve into style. With DePalma, it is exactly the opposite: he builds upon a certain idea and the plot follows. During a sequence of shots that lasts at least ten minutes long, a troubled woman named Kate (Angie Dickinson) chases an unknown man through a museum of art. These scenes are deliberately handled -- music overlaps the actions. All other sounds are blocked. Images are slowed down. A handheld camera takes on the first-person perspective as it swoops around corners, chasing the man as he escapes her...

Right when we think we know where the film is headed, it spins us around. After an extra-marital affair with this mysterious man, a vague woman slaughters Kate in an elevator. The lone witness to the crime is Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), one of those "hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold" characters, who soon finds her own life threatened after the mysterious woman begins to stalk her. Why? Apparently, to taunt Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine), a psychiatrist who realizes that the murder suspect is a patient of his named Bobby. Bobby is a transsexual who has some very serious problems, and apparently no clear motive behind his actions.

Kate was also a patient of Dr. Elliott's, prior to her death. Elliot considers this to be the link to the motive. As he tries to convince authorities of Bobby's guilt, Liz decides to do some investigating of her own, with the help of Kate's son (Keith Gordon, "JAWS 2").

The movie is all about style – whether it be chases, murders, revelations, or dream sequences. It also deals extensively with sex. (And these are still rather shocking for a mainstream film, even 24 years after the movie's initial release.)

As for the mystery? Even though I guessed the ending as soon as the murder occurred, getting there was half the fun.

"Dressed to Kill" shocked audiences when it came out for a number of reasons. It dealt rather frankly with sex, transsexuals and murder. But one of the biggest surprises was the demise of Dickinson's character. Advertised as one of the movie's biggest stars, she is killed off within the first forty minutes. Right after DePalma masterfully convinces us that the story isn't going to be about murder at all, and we begin to wonder about the title's meaning, a mysterious woman appears in an elevator with a razor blade and it all begins to make sense.

In this regard "Dressed to Kill" is a successful film that is exactly what it tries to be -- a movie that shocks us at every turn, even when we have a feeling we know where it's going.

However, its climax is the movie's largest flaw: Hitchcock knew how to end his movies, and DePalma doesn't. The ending lowers the film's lasting impact because it is so manipulative and unpleasing -- first, there's the mandatory explanation of events. Hitchcock did this with "Psycho" (1960) and it is often considered one of the film's only faults. Here, DePalma -- who also wrote the script -- does the same, with even worse dialogue.

The movie's violence isn't as shocking as it might have been when it was released, although it certainly adds a level of underlying tension to the film that is vital to the story and the protagonist's struggle.

The infectious nature of "Dressed to Kill" is ultimately what makes it so fun. By mimicking his idol, DePalma has ironically created a handful of unique filmmaking techniques along the way. Although it isn't flawless, "Dressed to Kill" is a good movie and a must-see for film buffs.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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