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From the Netflix Vault: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Film: Dressed to Kill

Release Date: 1980

Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen

Thank god for Netflix. I mean, really. When else in history has man been able -- for a mere $8 per MONTH -- to access a seemingly limitless catalog of motion picture entertainment (TV, movies, past =a and present) some of it good, some of it crappo, at the touch of a button? I say never. If it weren't for Netflix, I'd probably never have discovered lost gems like Dressed to Kill. 

Perhaps I use the word "gem" too easily. There are perfectly good reasons why this film has been forgotten in the mists of time and relegated to a spot deep within the Netflix vault; the equivalent of the dusty center aisles of the video store. But we'll get to that later. For now, let's focus on the positives.

Reasons to Watch:

1.) Dennis Franz playing a cocky, street-wise cop. Thirteen years before the role of his life as Sipowicz on NYPD Blue, Franz turns in a pitch-perfect performance as the brass-tacks, no-bullshit-taking detective determined to crack the case in Dressed to Kill. Don't try your feminine wiles on him...he's immune, toots. He's so good he completely alters the film's center of gravity, completely overshadowing every other actor. His only match, acting wise, is Michael Caine; luckily the two have a great head-to-head scene. Franz was born to play a cop. This film is worth watching just to see him essentially practicing for the role of Sipowicz, only 25 pounds lighter and 13 years younger. He even has a waist!

2.) The museum sequence with Angie Dickinson. In the film Dickinson plays a beautiful but sexually unsatisfied housewife who (SPOILER ALERT) gets murdered after she is picked up by a strange man in a museum. So what? So...the scene inside the museum, in which she plays cat and mouse with her strange dark suitor, is an incredible, arty piece of film-making that actually works to create a tremendous amount of suspense. Using absolutely no dialogue, Dickinson is able to convey the character's inner conflict between her thirst for sexual affirmation, for adventure, and her role as devoted mother. Will she really allow herself to be picked up by a strange man in a museum? She doesn't know, and neither do we. 

3.) Nancy Allen. One of those actresses you recognize but don't know where you recognize her from, Allen was one of one of those 80s, all-purpose, supporting-role hotties. A rare and yet lovable breed characterized, usually, by an innocent, babydoll-ish face, pale skin, bushels of curly and/or blonde hair, a penchant for wearing elaborate lingerie when it's time for business, and big, oversize sweaters that come down to her knees when it's time for bed. She's moderately intelligent, sassy, and daring, but always willing to get out of the way when the hero takes over. She's the ultimate 80s vision of young-womanhood. Cast in that precise role here, Allen turns in a fun performance as the plucky, high-priced call girl who witnesses a murder and has to run from the killer, then solve the crime so she doesn't get booked for it. 

Why it Didn't Work:

1.) Act One is WAY too long and the seeming Main Character dies in the first third of the film. I'm no Coppola, but you just can't focus on a certain character -- exclusively -- for the first 30 minutes of a film, make the audience care deeply about that character, and then kill her off at the end of Act One. Angie Dickinson's character was sexy and really interesting...and then she dies and there's still, like, 75 minutes left to go in the movie. We don't get to know any of the remaining character's internal lives nearly as well, and therefore we can't care about them. 

2.) Michael Caine as a cross-dresser? Sorry, this just didn't work for me.

3.) The Data Dump comes in the final act. You know the Data Dump; it's that scene in which the characters have a conversation which kind of "explains" what's going on in the film and why you need to pay attention to certain aspects and not to others. Well...the Data Dump comes way, way too late and the viewer must completely rely on the Data Dump in order to make any sense of the film. They could have done this a lot better and a lot earlier.


Angie Dickinson's body double in the shower. The opening sequence shows Dickinson in the shower caressing herself longingly as she fantasizes about the kind of sex she wishes she could have with her husband or whomever. The camera spares not an inch of "Dickinson's" body, including a full frontal. However, the mismatch between the body double's age and Dickinson's age is laughable. Dickinson was at least 50 in 1980. It doesn't take a doctor to tell you the body they used for the shower scene was not that of a 50 year old woman. Perhaps 30...but not 50. As evidenced by the conspicuous way the camera never shows Dickinson's head and body in the same shot. 


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