Dressed To Kill (1980)

I’m gonna just spoil this one right off the bat so if you haven’t seen it, give this review a miss. Because, by far, the best part of this movie was on the way home. The Flower thought the movie was okay, pretty good, and for me this was one of those movies where my expectations were just about met. That is, I expected to like this a bit less than I had when I saw it originally, and I did. But the Boy was disgruntled.

He thought it was going along fine until the end. The big reveal—which the movie told us way in advance—is that the killer is a transvestite. And so the killer was revealed to be a transvestite and he was, naturally, unimpressed, because what kind of reveal is that?

It’s a transvestite. We’ve heard all of the voice mails on Michael Caine’s answering machine. It’s his crazy trannie patient. So the big reveal was “just some guy.”

(Here’s the spoiler in case you haven’t ducked out yet.)

The real girl (Penthouse Pet Victoria Johnson) had red hair and ... had to dye it!
Spoiler: That’s not Angie’s 50-year-old body in the closeups.

(Ready?)

“MICHAEL CAINE WAS THE KILLER?!?!”

The Flower and I laughed so hard, it was the best part of the evening. The Boy has my inability to recognize faces (I was far worse than he at his age—I’ve gotten a lot better as I’ve aged) and I probably wouldn’t have recognized him either in the short glimpse given except that in 1980 Michael Caine was a huge star and he was in a lot of things.

But still—funny, because it would be a HUGE let down if it weren’t Michael Caine. In fact, there’s literally no one else it could be in the movie that makes any sort of narrative or dramatic sense.

That said, the movie’s okay. Brian De Palma directs this mashup of Psycho and…there’s another movie in there, too. Vertigo, sure, and I pointed out the museum scene when we saw that a couple weeks later . But I recall (a possibly foreign) film that does the time-lapse photography gag they use to “catch” the killer blonde but…whatevs. (Blow Out, which directly references Blow Up and may be De Palma’s best, would come next.)

But it looked like HER!
Kim Novak was also looking at a portrait.

The story is that sexually frustrated wife Angie Dickinson (in the Janet Leigh role) is murdered in an elevator with hooker Nancy Allen as a witness, and she teams up with the victim’s son (19 year old Keith Gordon, who directs “Fargo” now but would go on  to play high-school kids for the next seven years) to spy on psychiatrist Michael Caine, feeling that one of his patients is the most likely suspect.

There are a few good moments of suspense here. Not great, and not all that many of them. It’s kind of abrupt. The dialogue actually made the audience laugh out loud at one point. (“You really loved your mom, huh?” Nancy says to Keith after she’s been dead—I wanna say less than a week.) The performances are not top notch, and since the actors are all competent—Dennis Franz is the hard-boiled detective willing to risk Nancy’s life on a lark—the blame for that has to fall on De Palma.

Was she? No idea.
“You really loved your mom, huh?” “Well, she was great in ‘Police Woman’!”

In retrospect, it seems like the most appealing part of the movie was the nudity and violence. The violence seems a little comical now, being highly stylized and edited (by modern terms) “slow” and the nudity seems especially prurient (for the same reasons!) but also less interesting because, hey, it’s 2017 and gratuitous nudity is more transparently exploitative.

Well, at least to me. Back then, of course, this sort of thing seemed vitally necessary for the story but literally none of it is, and now it kind of clanks.

The cuts, now, seem so slow motion that it’s really obvious that it’s Michael Caine in a wig in that opening elevator scene. Such is the nature of art, though: You gotta make your movie for the audience you have, even if future ones find it hokey.

It’s not great, doesn’t hold up that well, but it never quite gets boring. It’s typically ranked among De Palma’s best. He still makes films—he’s got four coming out in the next few years (again if IMDB is to be believed) but he hasn’t really made a good one since the oddly tame Mission: Impossible and the last “famous” film he made was the disastrous Redacted: A sad attempt to slur troops in the Iraqi war.

Hopefully these upcoming pictures will be better, but I’m not optimistic.

Murder it. Though he's stopped here, unlike the murder of art.
Michael Caine, about to do to Nancy Allen what the desire to inject political messages does to art.

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