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Dressed to Kill

Posted by martinteller on April 10, 2012

After my very successful revisit with Carrie recently, I was curious to check out more De Palma.  I’ve had mixed results with the others I’ve seen (Scarface, Blow Out, Mission Impossible, Sisters, Casualties of War), each with some impressive or memorable elements but not satisfying on the whole.  But perhaps I’d have better luck with some of the other titles, particularly the early thrillers.  This seemed like as good a place as any to start.  Still, the results are mixed.

Combining a clear Hitchcock influence (references to Psycho abound, and the museum scene points to Vertigo) with a giallo sensibility, for the most part it works as a stylish thriller.  Though a couple of scenes try one’s patience more than they build suspense, in general the film is pretty good about using pacing and expert camerawork to generate tension.  De Palma utilizes the edge of the frame to give information, and his trademark split screen/dioptic effects to provide multiple points of view.  As in Hitchcock, we often see the next shock coming long before the victim, and can only wait helplessly for it to occur.

But the film’s twist is far too blatantly telegraphed, and even if you’ve never seen a Hitchcock film you’ll have no trouble guessing the secret.  That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it does take a lot of the sting out of the big reveal.  I think the bigger problem lies in the acting and the screenplay.  Angie Dickinson and Michael Caine are both fine, not great but no complaints.  However, Nancy Allen (returning from Carrie, which this film has other notable similarities to) is pretty horrible, and Dennis Franz gives one of his worst cop performances ever.  But how much can we blame them, given such clunky, clichéd, overly expositional dialogue to work with?  And the less said about the scene with the “punks” on the subway, the better.  Which reminds me… the score is rather awful, too.  The music the “punks” are listening to on their boombox is pure cheese, and the lush romantic scoring kind of works in the context of Carrie, but feels like softcore porn here.

I did appreciate the style and mood of the film, which evokes De Palma’s influences while still maintaining his personal stamp.  Some scenes are very well crafted suspense.  But the predictability of the story and the cornball aspects of the acting/writing/music made the experience a near miss for me.  Rating: Fair


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