And thus begins the hall of mirrors that is Dressed to Kill, a motion picture described by noted critic, David Denby, in New York Magazine as the “first great film of the eighties.” After 35 years, it has been restored beautifully and issued in Blu-ray by Criterion Collection, along with an impressive list of disk extras. Suspense director Brian DePalma should be quite proud of the results as his brilliant and terrifying film holds up quite well in the new century.
Starring Nancy Allen as a witness to a crime; Michael Caine as a psychiatrist with a dangerous patient; Angie Dickinson as a bored Manhattan housewife; Dennis Franz as a detective trying to catch a killer; and Keith Gordon, as Dickinson’s son, with some inventive tricks up his sleeve in order to untwist a Rubrik’s Cube of clues, “Dressed to Kill” was shocking when it was released in 1980. Graphic in terms of language, nudity and violence, it was nonetheless praised for its visual style and soundtrack.
With nods to Hitchcock’s Psycho, DePalma kills off his star, Dickinson, within its first half-hour. Those 30 minutes, however, are characterized by two of the most talked-about scenes ever in modern American film-making. The first is a virtually silent, 7-minute sequence in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (substituting for New York City’s Metropolitan.) Dickinson pursues a stranger throughout the museum’s galleries, only to find herself being pursued. It quickly became known as the “cat-and-mouse” sequence in film circles and it stands up beautifully even by today’s standards. The second is the murder sequence itself, taking place in the confines of elevator. With an ominous sense of foreboding delivered initially through the stares of a child who enters on a lower floor, multiple camera shots, and the glint of a straight-edge razor, DePalma solidified his reputation as director of bravura style, staging and editing. What ensues thereafter is nothing short of dazzling. Multiple images focused in the same frame, split screens and an abundance of mirrors throughout all help propel the notion of dual personality and mistaken identities. DePalma’s longtime composer Pino Donaggio never scored a film more beautifully and cinematographer Ralph Bode, who has since passed since the film’s release, should be proud that his work has easily stood the test of time.