After his mainstream breakthrough with his adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), Brian De Palma followed that up with The Fury (1978), which would reaffirm his arrival on the Hollywood scene as a director with considerable visual flair. After a detour back to his independent filmmaking roots with Home Movies (1979), De Palma would create one of his most direct nods to Alfred Hitchcock with Dressed to Kill. Previously released on DVD and Bly-ray by MGM and on Blu-ray by Criterion, Kino has given the movie its UHD Blu-ray debut here.
The Production: 4.5/5
Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is an upper middle-class New York woman in a marriage that has lost its spark. One day, after confiding to her therapist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) about her troubles, she has an impromptu rendezvous with a stranger from the art gallery; that encounter ends when Kate is slashed to death in an elevator by a blonde woman in dark sunglasses wielding a straight razor. Call girl Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) witnesses the brutal killing and is initially considered a suspect, but when she’s targeted by the killer, she teams up with Kate’s son Peter (Keith Gordon) to uncover the truth behind his mother’s death. However, Dr. Elliott is also on the killer’s trail as well, but nothing is what it seems…
One of Brian De Palma’s best films as a director, Dressed to Kill is one his most sustained exercises in style and homage to Alfred Hitchcock. Though clearly influenced by Psycho, the similarities end there as De Palma fashions a story that builds tension on each successive scene; the museum scene as well as the brutal attack in the elevator are among the director’s finest moments in any of his films. There is a subplot involving Dr. Elliott’s patient (who’s responsible for Kate Miller’s death) in regard to gender identity that stirred up controversy upon first release and is still a thorny subject in today’s world; however, De Palma certainly wasn’t intentionally homophobic – or misogynistic, another charge thrown at the director upon initial release – in presenting the story, as the plot relies more on emotions rather than logic. Despite that obvious concern, the film is still immaculately crafted with solid contributions from cinematographer Ralf D. Bode, production designer Gary Weist, editor Jerry Greenberg and composer Pino Donaggio. With a combination of mystery, eroticism and a little dash of controversy as well, Dressed to Kill is still a remarkable achievement – and, arguably, one of the finest hours – from a director skilled at utilizing striking visuals to tell his stories.
As the film’s proverbial Janet Leigh to help propel the story along, Angie Dickinson arguably gives the best film performance of her career as Kate Miller; Dickinson – initially reluctant to take on the part following a successful on TV as Police Woman – would win a Saturn Award for Best Actress and has considered the part as one of her favorites. Cast after Sean Connery – De Palma’s first choice for the part – was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts, Michael Caine acquits himself well as Dr. Elliott; his performance here came during a period in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s appearing in films that were less than favorable to critics such as The Swarm (1978), Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) and The Island (released the same year as this movie). Earning a Golden Globe nomination her performance as the streetwise Liz Blake, Nancy Allen has one her best performances here; married to De Palma at the time of this movie’s release, she would appear in his follow-up film Blow Out (1981) before the two went their separate ways professionally and personally (they divorced in 1984). Rounding out the cast here are Keith Gordon as Kate’s son Peter, Dennis Franz as Detective Marino, David Margulies as Dr. Elliott’s colleague Dr. Levy, Ken Baker as the man Kate has an impromptu fling with that fateful afternoon, Susanna Clemm as Betty Luce (she also played Bobbi in several scenes, except for the climatic reveal, which will not be disclosed in this review), Brandon Maggart as one of Liz’s clients, Amalie Collier as the cleaning woman who also witnesses the aftermath of Kate’s murder, Samm-Art Williams as the cop in the subway, Anneka Di Lorenzo as the nurse at the end of the movie and Bill Randolph – who would notably end up as part of a human shish kebab with co-star Marta Kober in Friday the 13th Part 2 the year after this movie – as a cabbie; that’s William Finley’s voice as Bobbi and Mark Margolis appears uncredited as a Bellvue Hospital patient.
3D Rating: NA
The unrated version of the film is presented in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new HDR/Dolby Vision master from 4K scan of the original camera negative. Film grain, color palette and fine details appear to be represented faithfully; this release also preserves the original Filmways Pictures logo at the beginning of the movie (it was also preserved on Criterion’s 2015 Blu-ray release of the movie). There’s little to no instances of issues like scratches, tears or dirt present here, making this release likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and surpasses all previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film.
There are two audio options on this release: a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track (representing the original theatrical sound mix) and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Both tracks exhibit a solid and faithful presentation of sound mix, dialogue and Pino Donaggio’s elegant yet suspenseful music score; there’s minimal cases of distortion, flutter, hissing, popping or crackling present. Overall, this release is the best the movie will ever sound on home video and bests all previous home video editions.
Special Features: 5/5
UHD Blu-ray Disc
Commentary by film critic/author Maitland McDonagh – Recorded for this release, McDonagh goes over some of the controversy surrounding the film during its release while giving her own analysis on the film and key scenes; there’s a few pauses here and there but still an interesting and insightful track.
Special Features Blu-ray disc
Strictly Business (17:27) – Newly filmed for this release, Nancy Allen talks about her memories about working on the movie in this interview.
Killer Frames (8:14) – Associate producer Fred C. Caruso talks about his career and how he got involved with the movie in this brand new interview.
An Imitation of Life (14:16) – Actor/filmmaker Keith Gordon shares his memories of the film and how he was discovered by Brian De Palma in this new interview.
Symphony of Fear (17:37) – In this archival 2012 interview, producer George Litto talks about how he reunited with De Palma after Obsession to work on the movie.
Dressed in White (29:54) – This archival 2012 interview features Angie Dickinson talking how she was cast and why she considers Kate Miller to be one of her best roles.
Dressed in Purple (23:05) – Nancy Allen talks about her part of Liz Blake in this archival 2012 interview.
Lessons in Filmmaking (30:46) – Keith Gordon talks about his time working on the film and his eventual career as a filmmaker in his own right in this archival 2012 interview.
The Making of Dressed to Kill (43:51) – Laurent Bouzereau’s 2001 featurette from the MGM Special Edition DVD looks back at the making of the movie; featuring interviews with writer/director Brian De Palma, producer George Litto, actors Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon and Dennis Franz and film editor Jerry Greenberg.
Slashing Dressed to Kill (9:50) – Another carryover from the 2001 MGM DVD is the featurette focusing on the scenes that had to be fixed in order to avoid an X rating from the MPAA.
An Appreciation by Keith Gordon from 2001 (6:06)
Unrated/R-Rated/TV-Rated Comparison (5:14)
1980 audio interview with Michael Caine (4:50)
1980 audio interview with Angie Dickinson (3:31)
1980 audio interview with Nancy Allen (14:31)
Theatrical Trailer (2:12)
Teaser Trailer (0:54)
TV Spots (3) (1:22)
Radio Spots (6) (4:05)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – Play Misty for Me, And Soon the Darkness, Eyes of Laura Mars, Happy Birthday to Me & Not for Publication
Notably not carried over from Criterion’s 2015 Blu-ray release are interviews with Nancy Allen, George Litto, composer Pino Donaggio, body double Victoria Lynn Johnson and poster art director Stephen Sayadian, a conversation between Brian De Palma and Noah Baumbach, a storyboard gallery and a profile on cinematographer Ralf D. Bode featuring Michael Apted.
Garnering a successful box office run, positive notices from critics as well as some controversy, Dressed to Kill is by far one of Brian De Palma’s best movies. Kino has likely delivered the best home video incarnation of the film, with a superb HDR/Dolby Vision transfer along with a great selection of new and legacy bonus features from previous home video releases (though not everything could be carried over). Very highly recommended.
Amazon.com: Dressed to Kill (4KUHD): Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, David Margulies, Ken Baker, Susanna Clemm, Brandon Maggart, Amalie Collier, Brian De Palma: Movies & TV
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