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September 06, 2011


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The last time I watched this I remember thinking that Nancy Allen's encounter with the killer in the subway train is a prototype version of Pacino's more elaborate attempts to escape from the gang members in Carlito's Way.

For me, the best bit about Dressed To Kill is still Allen's wide-eyed and eager account of the step-by-step process of how to transform a man into a woman near the end. Almost as if she is standing up for all the brutalised female characters during the film and suddenly giving the gents in the audience something to cross their legs over!


A minor point, but I'm very glad to see art based on the original one sheet rather than the gaudy cover that came with the DVD.

"suddenly giving the gents in the audience something to cross their legs over!"

I think this was Exhibit A in Robin Wood's essay about how all De Palma films were about castration anxiety.

Brian Dauth

And the anxiety reaches a peak with RAISING CAIN where Margo is the last personality standing.


I was watching/re-watching De Palma movies recently (stalled for now; will pick up eventually again with the first MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie), including this one. The first time I saw it, I thought it was the height of his self-indulgence, in more ways than one, even though the technique was admittedly topnotch. Upon rewatch, I have to admit I liked it a lot more, though I still think the ending is pretty silly and too long to be the "oh my God!" ending De Palma seemed to be aiming for (and did much better in CARRIE).

warren oates

DRESSED TO KILL is probably my favorite De Palma film. Perhaps because as kids we somehow managed to borrow the seemingly (at least in my memory) unexpurgated VHS from our local public library when my mother mistakenly thought she was getting us a similarly titled Sherlock Holmes adventure.

Then again, it could be that perfect Steadicam work in the museum scene. Or the genuine shock of the murders. Or the supporting performances by Dennis Franz and Keith Gordon.

Heck, any movie that can riff off (as opposed to rip off) Hitchcock this well and still impress Ron Jeremy with its sleaziness has to be doing something right. Would that present day De Palma could find his way back to the sweet spot of his early 80's work.

Glenn Kenny

Good lord, how I LOVE Dennis Franz in this movie, as I was reminded while watching the Blu-ray. "LOOK, Doc-TAH." "No, fuck YOU." "Now I want you to find your friend Ted from out of town and bring him IN TOWN and DOWN town and IN HERE..."All of it topped by him turning so amiable at the end. And that JACKET. Just genius. Didn't hit those highs in "Blow Out" or "Body Double," alas.


Dennis Franz's embarrassed reaction in the Psycho-like explanation scene is hilarious.


Franz apparently hasn't done a thing since NYPD BLUE ended. Hope he comes back some day. I appreciated Hugh Laurie's recent NY Times interview, in which he decried American TV's tendency to cast conventionally attractive actors: “I think that’s hugely misguided. The glory of American television is Dennis Franz.”

Franz graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where I went to film school. He came back for a visit during his NYPD BLUE heyday, but I missed meeting him because I was stuck conforming the negative of one of my films. Really bummed me out.


He was magnificent in HOMER S.: PORTRAIT OF AN ASS-GRABBER. At least the scene I watched.

Well, what?

Victor Morton

Would I be putting my mother and father in legal jeopardy by saying they took me and my sister (born 1966 and 1967) to DRESSED TO KILL during its theatrical release? (I remember my parents were watching "Police Woman" at the time ... maybe that was the reason.) Anyhoo ... I remember just this side of nothing about the film except the shock cut from the end of the shower scene to what-I-now-know-to-be-sex in bed. And I remember thinking it was stupid and nonsensical.

Tom Russell

I remember after I first saw the film and delved into its special features-- and Glenn, I must ask, is that strangely sycophantic yet appealing Keith Gordon documentary-defense from the DVD on the Blu?-- hearing that it caused something of a moral panic, and I was kind of surprised, frankly. The opening scene was shocking, yes, but didn't seem enough to cause such an uproar.

You have to understand, I wasn't even conceived when DRESSED TO KILL made its way into theaters, and by the time I was a young adult, I had this conception of The 80s as somewhat hedonistic era w/r/t film: mountains of coke, crazed slashers, Bootsie Goodhead. What I didn't come to realize until later was that, as someone who was born in the early eighties but become culturally cognizant in the nineties, the things that lasted to be passed down did so because of some special quality they possessed beyond their capacity to shock and appall. I know, I know, it's pretty basic stuff, but that was when I realized it.

The question I have to ask of folks who were there is-- how panicky was the panic, how shrill the outcry? Was it at about the same level as that levelled against, say, FIGHT CLUB or SHOWGIRLS? Was it mostly the territory of cultural scolds who make for good headlines but are for the most part ignored?

Tom Block

I don't remember any big kerfuffle re Dressed to Kill. It was mildly notorious--in a positive way--with its fans, but there wasn't anything like the protests against Cruising or Last Temptation. A Fish Called Wanda even raised a bigger stink.

Victor Morton

Tom R.:

If there had been a *major* kerfuffle about DRESSED TO KILL as a perverted sex movie, I'm pretty sure I would not have seen it under the circumstances I did.

Tom Russell

Well, that answers my question. Thanks, gents. :-D


I dunno - I have saved several clippings from "American Film" (back when they had a magazine), and while there might not have been a kerfuffle about the movie in the rest of the country, there apparently was quite an outrage in NYC, at least according to a very funny column by Ernest Lehman (one of the film's defenders).


Anybody remember Franz as the off-duty cop in THE FURY? For a movie that does not want for "big" performances, he's firing on all cylinders.

Glenn Kenny

I love this whole undercurrent of "No, it wasn't any kind of scandal, Kenny's just making shit up to inflate his anecdote" implications here! No, there weren't picket lines in the mode of "Last Temptation" or "Cruising" but there was a good deal of discussion and arts-and-leisureish thumbsucking about explicitness, whether or not De Palma was a misogynist, and so on. This would continue for his next couple of pictures, and during the making of "Scarface" DePalma had his famed interview explosion wherein he exclaimed "As soon as I get this dignity from 'Scarface' I'm going to go out and make an X-rated suspense porn picture" and "I'm sick of being censored," and so on. The talk was out there. I take no responsibility for the lack of responsibility of anybody else's parents!

Tom Block

The only NY critic whose review of it I recall today is Kael, who a) adored it, and b) was never shy about beating the misogyny and morality drums, while talks with cinephiles I recall were more along the lines of "Isn't Dickinson hot?" than "Isn't De Palma sick?" I put all that out there because somebody asked a direct question, not to make anyone look cracked. But fuck, I didn't live in NY then so maybe there was lots and lots of thumb-sucking going on at the time. I do know that when Kael's line about Scarface came along--a De Palma movie for people who hate them--it had enough context that I didn't need any discussions about Dressed to Kill to know exactly what she was talking about.

Glenn Kenny

My sarcasm was merely intended as, um, sarcasm.

Mark Asch

Here's my question, perhaps not a particularly essential one, for people whose memories of the film date back to the theatrical release: Was the film's BIG TWIST as obvious as it seems to be on repeat viewing? I didn't see it coming as an 18-year-old in the quiet of my dorm room, but upon repeat viewing De Palma seems to be giddily, shamelessly telegraphing it (which is of course at least as in keeping with his teasing process-flaunting storytelling methods in general as is a shocking reveal).

Glenn Kenny

Well, from the elevator killing on we were all on board for the "Psycho" "homage," so the reveal was a real eye-roller, for sure.

Tom Russell

Speaking of De Palma's giddy/shameless telegraphing, I remember watching an interview on the FEMME FATALE disc where De Palma bragged about putting the big switch in the opening scene, right in clear view, and that no one would notice it the first time through. And he was right; I didn't notice it. Of course part of that was how he shot it and another part of it was (ahem) what he shot.

Even if we can't have Early-To-Mid-Eighties De Palma back, I'd settle for a lot more Femme Fatale and a lot less Black Dahlia/Mission to Mars/etc.


I saw Dressed to Kill obsessively when it came out (something like 4-6 times in the theater, back when you could see the same movie in the theater once a month for six months) but I haven't seen it for a decade or two. I do remember that there was a clever diversion about the identity of the killer, that we see someone who looks like the killer leaving Caine's office early in the film (probably as Dickinson is arriving), so, perhaps subliminally, we assume the killer isn't who it turns out to be.


Tom, wasn't Kael's line about "A DePalma film for people who don't like DePalma" directed at THE UNTOUCHABLES? I've never read her SCARFACE review, but remember her lukewarm feelings about the Eliot Ness picture. And then how much she loved CASUALTIES OF WAR a couple of years later.

Tom Block

Actually that line (I slightly misquoted it) was only the title of her Scarface review, so it's not even certain that *she* wrote it. But it *was* the Scarface review.

James Keepnews

Our Dennis is a little over the top in THE FURY, (irony) so out of keeping with the overall tone of the piece (/irony). But it is a shame he seems to have dropped off the cultural radar entirely since '05. I'd like to believe it's because he's busy washing up in a bathtub filled with the money he made on NYPD BLUE for over a decade.


My personal favorite Franz performance was in the movie version of AMERICAN BUFFALO. Much more subdued than his delightful work for DePalma. (And I presume all Franz diehards watched his short-lived Hill Street Blues spinoff "Beverly Hills Buntz," whose pilot was directed by none other than Hal Ashby.)

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