Saturday, December 31, 2011

#502. Dressed to Kill (1980)

Directed By: Brian De Palma

Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen

Tag line: "Brian De Palma Master Of The Macabre, Invites You To A Showing Of The Latest Fashion...In Murder"

Trivia:  As a young man, De Palma, at his mother's urging, actually followed his father and used recording equipment to try and catch him with another woman. That incident inspired this film

Dressed to Kill opens with New York housewife Kate Miller (Angie Dickenson) standing in the shower, watching her lover through the smoky glass as she soaps up.  The passion slowly builds within her, but this erotic moment is interrupted when another man grabs Kate from behind, covering her mouth as he rapes her right there in the shower. What started as a steamy dream sequence quickly devolves into a nightmare, and Dressed to Kill has revealed the first of its many surprises. 

Following a torrid sexual encounter with a complete stranger, Kate is murdered, and her body dumped in an elevator. Prostitute Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) is the only witness to the killing, and as a result, finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the police are pressuring Liz for more information, threatening to charge her with the murder if she doesn’t cooperate. Then there's the actual killer, who’s out to silence Liz permanently. With the help of Kate Miller’s son, Peter (Keith Gordon), Liz hopes to clear her name and track down the responsible party before she, too, ends up in the morgue. 

Director Brian De Palma flexes his cinematic muscles throughout Dressed to Kill, giving us everything from his patented split screens to the ever-popular dream sequence (which he springs on us a number of times, and usually when we least expect it). Along with his bag of tricks, the director makes excellent use of the film’s musical score, which accentuates both the passion and the suspense. Take the scene at the Art Museum, for example, where Kate meets the man with whom she’ll have her first and, as it turns out, last extra-marital affair. By this point in the film, De Palma's already established that Kate is sexually frustrated, having confessed as much to her psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine), earlier in the morning. At the museum, Kate sits quietly in front of a portrait, glancing around occasionally to take in the various mating rituals the other patrons are engaged in; a young couple, embracing each other, are resisting the urge to grow even more amorous in such a public place, while beside them, a man hits on a pretty blonde. All this plays out in total silence. Then, as Kate is jotting something down in her day planner, a man sits next to her, at which point the music swells. She removes a glove, revealing her wedding ring. He sees it, and walks away. Kate pursues him, dropping her gloves as she stands. She follows him. He follows her. Soon, the chase turns tense; Kate begins to jog through the museum at a frantic pace, and we’re not sure if she’s running to, or from, this mysterious stranger. Thanks in large part to Pino Donnagio's score, the tone of this entire scene shifts, from soft and romantic one minute to quick and frightening the next, and without so much as a single line of dialogue. 

With sharp visuals and musical cues to drive the tempo, words would have just gotten in the way.

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