• Dressed to Kill opens like many of De Palma films- with a complex tracking shot as the camera glides into the bathroom playing voyeur on Angie Dickinson’s Kate Miller character as she is taking a shower.
  • De Palma revels in the seediness of it all- Dressed to Kill is yet another film (much like Body Double to follow) to have scenes that could be straight out of softcore… and this is the second film of De Palma’s already (1976’s Carrie) to open with a slow motion surrealism sequence featuring female nudity in the shower.
  • It is somewhat complex set up. Michael Caine plays Doctor Robert Elliott- a psychiatrist. He is treating Angie Dickinson’s Kate Miller. There is a murder (Psycho-like stabbing, and De Palma will part with the recognizable female lead early in the film) where Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) is a witness. The victim’s son (Keith Gordon as Peter Miller) works with Allen’s character to help solve the crime.

Before De Palma parts with Dressed to Kill’s Janet Leigh, there is a sensational dialogue-less cat and mouse sequence with a handsome stranger in a museum (the museum setting and outright shots are straight out of Vertigo). She drops her glove- De Palma leans heavily on Pino Donaggio’s ambitious score while his camera weaves in and out of the rooms in the museum.

A gorgeous split diopter shot reveals the glove left behind.

  • All the De Palmaisms’ are here in Dressed to Kill—a split screen shot to remind the view of the missing wedding ring (think of Hitch nodding to the poison tea in Notorious).
  • The active camera rewards Dickinson’s strong performance—especially in scenes without dialogue when De Palma is capturing her every twitch and anxious moment.

For the elevator slasher scene, the Pino score shrieks—and De Palma splinters the action furiously (much like a famous shower stabbing scene from Hitchcock).

The son eavesdrops via split diopter in what may be the best composition in the film (43-minute mark). It also serves as a perfect marriage of film style with content (both foreground and background action extremely relevant). Every moment is so pronounced as he raises his device to his ear. In an alternate shot (another very fine one), Caine is foreground left in Dennis Franz (he and Allen will return in Blow Out in 1981)’s office with Nancy Allen in the deep background right.

  • Caine is not only a very worthy actor of course, but is also perfectly cast in the psychiatrist role.
  • The stopwatch sequence is another chance for De Palma to use the split diopter as the Peter Miller character (playing detective) is making a sort of Blow Up/Blow Out -style movie/photography contraption to track down the killer.
  • Split screen again during the voicemail scene.

The cat and mouse (second such sequence in the film- this time with Allen and the killer) is inspired.

There is a sort of Millennium Mambo shot (this is twenty-one years before Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s 2001 film) shot with lighting overhanging Allen in the subway. All of this is before yet another impeccable use of the split diopter as Allen is accosted by some men.

  • Next is the sequence of Allen’s character seducing Caine’s character with the storm as lighting splashes on his face.
  • The epilogue with the medical explanation of the transsexual is right out of Psycho of course as well- but De Palma does not end here. There is a long overhead crane shot of Caine in a mental institution undressing an unconscious nurse (to a theater of insane people in Bellevue). There is yet another ending (maybe his fourth) bringing back the point of view stalking/tracking Giallo camera again with Allen in the shower this time to pair with the opening.

the third of the four endings- a dramatic overhead shot

  • Like many of De Palma’s films, Dressed to Kill owes a major debt to the great Alfred Hitchcock.
  • Highly Recommend /Must-See border- probably leaning Must-See