De Palma. When talking about De Palma people either start with either a) talking about him as a brilliant technician/stylist or b) talk about him being a Hitchcock imitator or c) talk about him the maker of dumbish’ pulp films. I think all three things are somewhat undeniable and I officially have no problem with them. I mean Obsession is a pretty straight Vertigo remake. Dressed to Kill has elements of Psycho but it certainly doesn’t stop there either with Hitchcock or other homages or pilfering. A brilliant sequence in The Untouchables steals from the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin. Scarface is obviously an updated remake of the early Howard Hawks gangster film and De Palma has an entire movie called Femme Fatale. I appreciate De Palma’s visual style and nearly his entire oeuvre. He has three films in the top 500 which is strong this far down the list. His best work was from 1976-1987- his 5 best films during that stretch (he gave us 4 of the top 100 films of the 1980’s). He’s such a great technician that even his bad fims (and he’s made a few) have some bravura sequences.
Best film: Blow Out. The finale is such a grand visual spectacle. It’s good narrative (like The Conversation from Coppola this is taken from Antonioni’s Blow Out) and has all the De Palma elements—and the fireworks slow-motion sequence is De Palma’s zenith.
total archiveable films: 13
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 3 (Blow Out, Carrie, Scarface)
top 100 films of the decade: 5 (Blow Out, Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, Dressed to Kill)
most overrated: Not a thing for De Palma here- he has three films in the top 1000 on TSPDT (Blow Out, Carrie and Scarface and all three are either rated correctly or underrated).
most underrated: Blow Out- it’s #684 on TSPDT but I’m at #189 so we’re 500 slots off- substantial disconnect here. Mission Impossible, Snake Eyes, and Femme Fatale all have metacritic scores in the 50’s and are in my archives.
gem I want to spotlight: Dressed to Kill– Ebert said “De Palma is not yet an artist of Hitchcock’s stature, but he does earn the right to a comparison.” This film is perfect De Palma. It’s pulpy (almost soap opera-y at times) and part Hitchcock— and 100% technically stunning.
stylistic innovations/traits: Yes, amongst the many, he is the A-1 Hitchcock disciple. This is not easy (De Palma’s to imitate Hitchcock come off much more successfully than Truffaut) and if you’re going to pick an auteur to pattern yourself after – Hitchcock is a good one (he’s #1 on this list). De Palma has some original touches too- he goes to slow-motion (which Hitchcock didn’t) and he basically invented the split-screen shot and the gorgeous split diopter shot. Other shots (the overhead shot from Psycho, the POV shot, the 360 swirling tracking shot from (Vertigo) he used so often he made his own (and when someone like Tarantino talks about them he says he got them from De Palma). He’s such a gifted technician and adored those stunning long rolling tracking shots. He’s not Hitchcock and honestly never really tried to top the great master. He’s a visual master and frankly, gave us some of the better directed sequences (the opening of Carrie, the end of Blow Out) of the 70’s and 80’s. I cherish his oeuvre.
- Blow Out
- The Untouchables
- Dressed to Kill
- Carlito’s Way
- Mission Impossible
- Femme Fatale
- Casualties of War
By year and grades
|1978- The Fury||R|
|1980- Dressed To Kill||HR|
|1981- Blow Out||MP|
|1989- Casualties of War||R|
|1993- Carlito’s Way||R/HR|
|1996- Mission Impossible||R|
|1998- Snake Eyes||R|
|2002- Femme Fatale||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
Carrie is a masterpiece
@Wayne– you could be right- it’s brilliant and i admire the film a great deal. Certainly i won’t fight you on it if you think it’s a masterpiece. Do you think it is De Palma’s best? Or do you think he has multiple masterpieces?
I too have Carrie as a MP and his best closely followed by Blow Out as a MS. But I’ve only seen Blow Out once and I feel after a couple more viewings it will probably jump Carrie to be De Palma’s best yet I still have some work to do on his filmography. Do you not have Body Double in the archives? I’ve only heard good things about it and am keen to watch it.
@Joel VH- I’ve seen Body Double but it has been ages, and it does have some flaws– but I’m keep to rewatch it myself.
I think Phantom of the Paradise deserves to be here.. The Split screen car bomb sequence alone is worth it..
Carlito’s Way is a firm HR. There is a split diopter utilising a mirror in the film..Do use it when you update this page.
Do you recommend it? I’ve always wanted to see it but i’m not sure.
I agree with that, great movie. I think his 70s movies are his best movies.
@ Aldo. I would say so, yes. Give it a try.
just watched dressed to kill last night. i think it usually should take time, at least a bit after seeing a movie, but i will proclaim it a masterpiece. hitchcock was making films in an attempt to ‘play audience like a piano’ and that is exactly what de palma did. sadly i watched the r version not the x but it was still great and some of the visuals prove why de palma is seen as such a master technician. maybe not as good as the fireworks from blowout or the prom in carrie but the museum and shower scenes had great mise en scene
@ m – thank you for sharing. I love Dressed to Kill. I revisit it quite often.
What about body double? Ive only seen it once a long time ago and thought it was alright. its not even on archives
@dylan- I’ve seen it- but it was 15 years ago- I thought it was on the fringe of being an archiveable film at the time– I should revisit before commenting.
i like what you’re doing with this website a lot. we need more people like you who are willing to take film as a serious art form. however i do have a gripe and that is master filmmaker Brian De
Palma at 64. I feel he is a more modern update of Hitchcock (the modern Master of Suspense). Plus he makes films with the consistent stamp of an auteur. Him and Scorsese are close friends and rivals and I say Scorsese may have made some better films (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull). But still, I see him as a master auteur. his films deal with consistent themes such as gender roles, Catholicism, and the mean streets of New York in particular. But I see De Palma as a better visual stylist. For example, the Dressed To Kill museum scene.
@ JIM CARREY – thank you for visiting the site and the comment here. I love De Palma- and he certainly is a master stylist (I’m not sure he’s better than Scorsese– bold). And yes- certainly an update on Hitchcock. So how much higher would you have De Palma? The They Shoot Pictures Don’t They consensus has him at #93. So I’m much higher.
[…] 64. Brian De Palma […]
is nancy allen a terrible actress or is it just me? her acting seemed absolutely terrible in blow out despite it being a good movie
@dylan i think her acting in dressed to kill and carrie was superior to blowout. especially as the mean girl from carrie. a very good actress in my opinion.
@dylan- it isn’t just you- I don’t think Nancy Allen is a very good actress
just finished casualties of war and im 100% in agreement with tarantino that its the best vietnam war movie if apocalypse now is not counted. absolutely incredible.
after a de palma marathon of carrie, casualties of war, dressed to kill, blow out, untouchables and body double i’ve gotta say i only really liked blow out and casualties of war. i definitely didnt like how the untouchables plays from the side of the cops instead of the gangsters like in all the other gangster movies. i would highly recommend Boardwalk Empire, one of the best HBO shows, instead of the untouchables, its so much better, michael shannon’s best role and probably buscemi’s 2nd best after reservoir dogs. i will be doing a Scarface rewatch soon as i havent seen it in a while so cant comment on that.
A recent viewing of Sisters (1973) really impressed me despite the overall production quality being less than his later films
– great psychological thriller which would be a sign of things to come later particularly Carrie, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out amongst others
– loved the atmosphere/weird overall vibe with the Siamese twins
– “Peeping Tom” Gameshow idea is classic De Palma creating bizarre world within the film
– De Palma regular William Finley gives a terrifically creepy performance
– The use of split screen is stunning in several scenes particularly the killing scene in the apartment (which I see you included above)
– extended tracking shot after the murder
– great use of split diopter shots
– obviously influenced by Rear Window (and Hitchcock in general)
– this very bizarre scene in the mental hospital is hilarious:
– marvelous score from the great Bernard Herrmann
A fun ride start to finish, classic De Palma
@James Trapp- excellent work here James! thank you for the addition to the page
On a bit of a De Palma spree, Scarface (1983)
– I’ve always felt that it was a tad overrated due to the enormous cultural from a Scarface Video
Game to its influence on rap music and hip hop culture in general
– None the less it’s a phenomenal 3 hour ride
– Perfect combination of director and actor
– Pacino takes his character to such ridiculous scenes that it’s hard to imagine the movie
working any other way, I love this perfect explanation from Roger Ebert:
“his whole drive is to impress his personality and will on others. He begins with no resources
or weapons, except for his bravado, and fakes out more powerful men simply by seeming
dangerous and resourceful. His act is a bluff, so there is no sense in underplaying it.”
– Great use of atmosphere in depicting the excess culture of the 1980’s from the disco
dancing, music, drug culture (obviously), the clothes/outfits, law enforcement corruption
I think De Palma directs this movie exquisitely:
– the editing in the hotel shootout going back and forth between the violence taking place
in the hotel room and Tony’s associates/friends outside in the convertible hitting on girls,
also the editing in the “take it to the limit” scene (is that a montage?)
– the final shootout of course (great pic above)
– despite its run time of 3 hours really there are no wasted scenes or pointless sub plots as
it is actually quite tightly wound
The American Dream incarnated
@James Trapp- very nice- very good Ebert quote as well. Yeah it is one of those films I was curious to see where the TSPDT list landed on it as it has such a popular/cultural reputation
De Palma and Polanski are obviously quite similar as they both are Hitchcock disciples as you put it. If you could make a top 10 of both of their movies combined, what would it include?
@Harry- I think after I include The Tenant they’ll each have 5 that will be top 100 of their respective decade:
The Ghost Writer
Dressed to Kill
What do you think of roman polanski as an actor ?
@M*A*S*H- I don’t think much- he only has a few real speaking roles over his career- most notably in The Tenant- and I have some thoughts on it here http://thecinemaarchives.com/2020/10/09/the-tenant-1976-polanski/
Femme Fatale (2002) opens with the title character (Rebecca Romijn) lying on a Hotel bed naked watching Double Indemnity while smoking a cigarette…..just awesome
It’s an exhilarating film on top of that, some similarities to Mamet’s Heist (2001) with its multi-layered caper
@James Trapp- I’m a big admirer of Femme Fatale as well
hi Drake. I’m surprised about your rating on Carlito’s way. I think it’s one of the best gangster movies ever. great performance by Al Pacino, and very atipical as a gangstar movie. Sean Penn is brilliant and deserved the Oscar. The final shooting at the rainstation is incredible and the ending very touching. What do you think?
@benedetto- So would you have this as one of the best films of 1993 I assume? One of De Palma’s best? I hope I’m underrating it- it has been awhile- I look forward to rewatching it- I do think very highly of De Palma. Penn deserving the Oscar in 1993 for supporting is tough with Ralph Fiennes there for Schindler’s List.
I saw Carlito’s Way last night and I’d rank it very highly,
– Amazing tracking shots through the club, many of these are they don’t get repetitive, also showing a different path
– Consistent neon lighting and the dark-blue * black colour palette throughout
– Very kinetic screenplay in the first hour or so
– The final chase is very intense, but there’s some great mise-en scene like the above lights in the train station
– The editing in the drug deal / pool scene is also very intense, then the lighting flips near the end of the scene like an Argento film.
– Not his best film but Penn’s best performance to me, almost unrecognizable and so sleazy
– Pacino’s voice-over narration is pretty iconic and works well + “here comes the pain”
@Harry – I need to do a rewatch of this soon, I remember being thoroughly impressed with Sean Penn (although his performance in Mystic River is his best in my opinion).
I think it works as a nice companion piece to Scarface. With Pacino’s first scene in court you are almost expecting another Tony Montana but then his character turns out to be a much more thoughtful, mature character. Smart move by De Palma as you cannot possibly out do the excess of Scarface. I like where he goes here with the narrative.
Man I’d love to do a double viewing of Scarface and Carlito’s one day, you’re right that they enrich each other. If you want to say Mystic River has a better Penn performance I won’t fight you, he’s brilliant in that.
One more thing I want to praise with Carlito’s Way is that one scene with an early Viggo Mortensen, acting and screenplay just on fire there, crazy how many accents Viggo can pull off.
Well I guess is for sure one of the bests with the piano and sonatine. I forgot about Ralph Fiennes and you’re right about it.
I forgot to mention the pool hall scene one at the begininning which I think is one of the best De palma’s suspance sequences. I think should be more a HR\MS than a R\HR, but that’s my opinion. Have a nice one Drake
@benedetto – this film is an interesting companion piece to Scarface as Pacino gives a more layered performance as Scarface is magnificently over the top (not complaining!). I agree with Fiennes giving the best performance of 93 but Sean Penn is great, in fact the 1st time I watched it I completely forgot I was watching Penn for much of the film as he really disappears into the role, hard to think of him as the same guy from say Mystic River. The film has tremendous energy similar to Boogey Nights (the night clubs, the extravagant house parties filled with booze, sex, and drugs).
I would fall short of calling it one of the best gangster films ever but definitely impressive
Body Double deserves a place in the archives
– Sleazy crossbreed of Vertigo and Rear Window (with a lil’ Psycho)
– The protagonist is claustrophobic is De Palma knows how to shoot this in key scenes either by using field depth or creating the effect of this endless beach tunnel with light at the end he cannot reach.
– Super smooth needle drop and so much attention to detail with extras in the “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” scene, very high energy filmmaking. There isn’t a formal tracking shot but De Palma edits alongside the movement so create a similar effect. One of my favourite scenes in his filmography.
– Using the ceiling as mise-en-scene a few times here with rows of lights in some interior scenes
– Hilarious scene where the protagonist (an actor but trying to pass as a porn producer) bumps into an old acting colleague.
– More great needledrops in the Rear Window-like scenes
– Lots of beautiful blue nighttime lighting
– Plot gets ridiculous but you can look past it and have a good time.
HR for me.
@Harry- thank you for sharing this- and this is timely- I’ll be seeing Body Double again in the next week or so.
@Drake – excited to see your take on Body Double, just watched again myself. I am curious, I know you do director studies but when you watch a film like you are doing Body Double soon do you just pick randomly or do you have some kind of system for picking?
@James Trapp – When I’m not watching films from that one specific director I’m studying I have a bunch of lists and use a computerized random generator for the most part. I try to see my share of recent films- 2020, 2021 on top of that. In this case, I was motivated by some films leaving Criterion streaming. Both Blow Out and Body Double are leaving on September 30th so I decided to do a little double billing study.
@Drake – lol I am literally watching Blow Out right now as I am typing this and I watched Body Double the other day.
@Drake will be seeing pages for Body Double and Blow Out since it has been a few weeks since you have seen them?
@Harry- I should have the pages for Blow Out and Body Double out in the next week.
@Harry – I love Body Double, it’s like a Hitchcock movie on steroids, you have the classic Hitch protagonist, an average but somewhat weak man who gets caught up in a bizarre scenario. Like you said it takes heavily from Rear Window and Vertigo. De Palma’s love of the movie industry is very Tarantino like, they both like setting movies in or around the movie industry, Blow Out, Once Upon a Time, Inglorious Basterds, Phantom Of The Paradise.
The mall scene is extraordinary well done and an obvious is homage to Vertigo. Body Double works as De Palma is operating in his preferred genre. Certainly De Palma has proven himself in other genres, but he is at his best with these types of thriller/mystery such as Blow Out, Carrie, and I think his most underrated film, Sisters (1973)
Re-watched Blow Out (1981) tonight and took a few notes
Starts with movie within a movie with a slasher film and a cheap scream
De Palma loves the movie making process so much he
7:30 excellent use of split screen
9:35 very cool scene with Travolta on the bridge recording
11:17 amazing split diopter shot of owl and Travolta
11:50 car crash scene, great use of sound effects
Use of color – blue and red underwater during crash scene
18:34 diopter lens
The flash back scene where Travolta figures out the tire was shot out is well done
27:00 blue and red design in the hotel
John Lithgow is hilarious – “exceeded the parameter”
1:02:40 – great 360 shot of room with all the machines running right before Travolta gets call from cop saying the tape has been erased
1:04:00 overhead shot of room with all the tapes running
1:22:26 great framing for shot of Travolta at his place
1:24:04 great split diopter shot at train station
Great set piece with the parade and of course fireworks at the end
1:36:10 amazing overhead shot of the city
It’s amazing how active this film is, there are no quiet Cinematic stretches. The camera is extremely active, De Palma is throwing everything but the kitchen sink here:
– starts with movie within the movie
– split diopter shots
– 360 shots
– split screen
– camera active, zooming in and out
– overhead shots
– helicopter shots
Spectacular stuff and a great performance from Travolta, cannot say the same about Nancy Allen ha but her performance is not a major distraction
Drake, have you seen Phantom Of The Paradise? I have seen it highly ranked on some peoples list of De Palma films. Have not had the chance to check it out yet.
@James Trapp- I have had a chance to see Phantom of the Paradise but it has been a very long time- I do look forward to revisiting it but have not had the opportunity.
The Fury R
Dressed To Kill R
Blow Out HR
Casualties of War R
Carlito’s Way HR
Mission Impossible —
Snake Eyes —
Femme Fatale R