Dressed to Kill

With two marquee stars dispatched by cross-dressers wielding knives in close quarters, the Psycho parallels are obvious.

Dressed to Kill has a denouement that was obvious too, but critics brushed it aside, as De Palma demonstrated as he often does, that visual style can carry the day and more than make up for a lot of flaws (he’s a bit like Argento in that respect).

Kate (Angie Dickinson) is frustrated by her two-pump chump of a hubby. In a protracted therapy session with psychiatrist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) she propositions him, only to be rejected.

At New York City’s Met, she connects with a mysterious stranger, in an elaborate labyrinthine courtship through the museums’ many galleries, eventually hooking up with him in a yellow cab and going back to his place. In the morning, the suitor’s bolted, and she follows suit shortly thereafter, but there’s a mysterious figure with a switch blade waiting in the condo elevator.

A high-priced call girl (Robocop’s Nancy Allan) who happens upon the vicious murder scene (one of the best he’s ever filmed, according to the director). Despite lacking a motive, she becomes the first and obvious suspect, when she’s fingered by cleaning staff. And that’s where the real fun begins.

Marino (Dennis Franz, in the first of one of seemingly countless cop roles he’s done throughout the decades) is the wise-ass NYPD investigator. And the son of the deceased, a crack engineering whiz-cum-inventor, features prominently.

De Palma is at his “Hitchiest” here, with themes of voyeurism, two-timing, and blurring moral distinctions (and in a sense, toward the end, Hitchcock was becoming more like De Palma, especially with Frenzy, as censorship eased in his native Britain).

There are few directors audacious enough to film pivotal scenes without dialogue for 20-25 minutes at a time, or to bait the audience with heavy character investment when a lead is not long for this world.

***3/4 (out of 5)

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