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Dressed To Kill

The Criterion Collection // Unrated // August 18, 2015
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted August 7, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Brian De Palma's Hitchcockian thriller starts off with a middle aged woman named Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) in the shower. She lathers up and shows off the goods, heads out into the bedroom, and then feigns her enjoyment as her husband mounts her. Her marriage is dead and she knows it, but at least she got a cool kid out of the deal in the form of science geek Peter (Keith Gordon). Later that day she heads to her shrink's office for her regular session with Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine). She does her best into trying to talk him into bed, but it's not going to happen, he tells her it's not worth risking his marriage over even if he does find her very attractive. Kate needs something though, so she heads to the art museum where she winds up hooking up with a guy, screwing around with him in a cab and then heading back to his place for some quality time in the bedroom. When she finishes up, she's brutally murdered in the building's elevator by a ‘blonde woman'… the only witnesses to this event being a hooker named Liz (Nancy Allan) and her john, who takes off never to be seen again.

The cops are called in, of course, and Detective Marino (Dennis Franz) figures Liz could very well be a suspect. Liz knows better, however, and decides to do a bit of snooping around on her own, and then eventually with some help from Peter. There's the matter of that blonde woman though, the one who hacked Kate up with a straight razor. She keeps leaving strange messages on Dr. Elliott's answering machine. Elliott suspects that the killer could be a former patient of his named Bobbie, but he's not saying much more than that.

Stylish, sexy and often downright sleazy, Dressed To Kill may borrow a lot from Hitchcock's Psycho and Dario Argento's giallo films but it does so with a good sense of fun and it remains an entertaining watch. While it's true that you won't have too much trouble figuring out who the killer is (in hindsight, they really didn't do a very good job of hiding it!) the film still gets by thanks to a couple of grisly murder set pieces (Dickinson's death is particularly nasty though again we think of Psycho as it's basically the shower scene relocated) and no shortage of skin on display. Whether it's the opening shower scene (which obviously uses a double as a stand in for Dickinson, as we never see her face connected to her naughty bits!) or Nancy Allan's black lingerie clad attempt to seduce Michael Caine, De Palma's movie makes sure that sex is at the front of the viewers mind from start, quite literally, until finish.

There's also a remarkably tense scene in which Nancy Allen's character arrives home only to notice that the blonde woman she believes to be the killer is waiting for her. This leads to a great chase around Manhattan and then into the New York City subway system. We won't ruin how it plays out as it's a highlight of the film but here De Palma shows us just how good he can be at building suspense and how he hasn't just aped Hitchcock's style at this point in his career but actually learned from it.

Performances are strong across the board with Dickinson in fine form as the distraught wife and Caine doing a fine job as the clinically inclined psychiatrist. Nancy Allen steals the show as the immensely likeable prostitute and her camaraderie with Keith Gordon works better than it has any right to. Dennis Franz basically plays the same curmudgeonly cop he's become typecast as but he does it well and if he's rough around the edges we know his character's heart is in the right place. As derivative as all of this might be, it's a fun movie and it holds up well.

The Blu-ray:


Dressed To Kill is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. As has been mentioned in various outlets online, this transfer has some issues and as such, the release has been postponed from 7/29/15 to 9/8/15. There's already an exchange program being put into place for those who wind up with this version. What's wrong with it? Vertical stretching that makes everyone look a little taller and thinner than they should. The colors are also different here than what we've seen in the past, with things looking a little more green for some reason. Detail is good, but this transfer has framing problems. Good on Criterion for correcting it. Once a revised disc is made available we'll revisit this and update the video portion of this review accordingly but for now, the disc we have on hand doesn't properly represent what should wind up in your hands if you buy it. Criterion have stated that they will indicated which version is the corrected one by printing ‘Second Printing' on the back of the cover packaging.


The English LPCM Mono mix on the disc sounds good, though the past MGM Blu-ray did include a lossless 5.1 option that has not made its way over to this release. This mono option sounds good though. Dialogue is clear and Pino Donoggio's fantastic score has good depth and range to it, which heightens the tension in the film quite a bit. There are some spots where dialogue sounds a little thin but nothing too serious there. The track is properly balanced and free of any hiss or distortion related problems. Optional subtitles are available in English only.


The new extras on this disc start off with an interview conducted with De Palma by filmmaker Noah Baumbach that runs just under twenty minutes. It's an interesting piece that sees the director talk about how his style evolved over the years, how this film was initially received during its original run, working with Michael Caine on the film, his admiration for the score and quite a bit more. We also get a new sixteen minute interview with lead actress Nancy Allen who shares her thoughts on being cast in the film, her character and related wardrobe and what it was like working with some of her fellow cast members on the film. Producer George Litto talks for twelve minutes about working with De Palma not just on this movie but on a few other pictures as well and he shares some input on his relationship with the director. Composer Pino Donaggio gets sixteen minutes in front of the camera to also discuss what it was like working with De Palma not just here but on some other projects. He also offers some insight into his creative process and his thoughts on the movie itself. Body double Victoria Lynn Johnson is an interesting choice for an interview, she gets nine minutes here to talk about her work in the movie and as a model (she was a Penthouse Pet Of The Year in 1978) and what it was like doubling for Dickinson. The last of the new interviews conducted for this release is a ten minute segment with Stephen Sayadian who was the art director in charge of the photography for the film's original poster. He gives some input on creating the image, that has since gone on to be pretty iconic, and the importance that it played in properly marketing the film to theater goers. Aside from the new interviews we also get a featurette called Defying Categories: Ralf Bode that features filmmakers Michael Apted and Peer Bode and runs just under eleven minutes. Here they talk about the effectiveness of the methods employed by the film's late cinematographer and specifically what they bring to the movie.

Carried over from previous MGM releases is the surprisingly comprehensive forty three minute documentary, The Making of Dressed To Kill. Here we get interviews with director Brian De Palma, producer George Litto, and cast members Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz, all of whom speak quite fondly about the movie. The ten minute Slashing Dressed To Kill featurette is also carried over. It deals with the censorship issues that the film ran into when it was first released. Also of interest is a five minute Unrated, R-Rated and TV-Rated Comparison featurette that shows how editing was used to create the three versions of the film. The disc also carries over the six minute long An Appreciation by Keith Gordon segment, is just what is sounds like, Gordon's appreciation for the film put down on record.

Rounding out the extras is a still gallery of storyboards by De Palma, the film's theatrical trailer, menus and chapter stops. Inside the clear keepcase is an insert booklet that contains credits for the feature and the disc as well as an interesting essay on the film by film critic Michael Koresky.

Final Thoughts:

De Palma has made better and more interesting movies than this one, but Dressed To Kill still holds up as a slick and sleazy thriller with some great performances and style to spare. As to the disc itself, it's hard to really recommend this one when it is, at the time of this writing, the subject of a recall/delay. The supplemental package is great and the audio is problem free but the transfer on the disc sent for review has issues. There's little doubt that Criterion will make this right, but for now, we'll go with ‘rent it' because there's no option here that lets us say ‘what for them to fix it.'

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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