Lead actor : Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine…
Warden: Brian De Palma.
More and more people are signing up for my new VickiTube streaming service to take advantage of the quality offerings that my friends and I here at MNM Enterprises can offer in this time of pandemic. I was very proud of our New Year’s party. Since my new headquarters, Condo Maine, is on top of the Nakatomi Tower here in Los Angeles, I had Mr. Keith, my electrical genius, put an antenna on the roof and installed a giant crystal shoe that goes down sharp at midnight. Eve Harrington and I provided colour commentary and excerpts from the great American songbook live, starting at 10 p.m. (our duet on Pike’s Sweet Betsy went particularly well), and ending with the orchestra (actually only Sebastian and Michael on two Yamaha synthesizers, since Covid was no longer available), starting with Tap Your Troubles Away, as the shoes bathed in bright white limelight and their descent began in the last seconds of 2020.
Maybe two floors was too much?
Unfortunately, about halfway there was some kind of electrical short-circuit and the lights went out. The carefully calibrated equipment that checked the boot failed and the boot fell from the last twenty meters, breaking into several pieces and sending Swarovski shards everywhere. Poor Sebastian got a cut in his ear and Michael got a cut in his ribcage. Eva was able to directly connect her Bluetooth iPad to the sound system and play an old movie about the performance of Rose Marie and Dorothy Maguire with Guy Lombardo while we were cleaning up the mess. We didn’t get any complaints from subscribers, so I think those who watched assumed it was all part of the show.
Today I’m working on a green screen for new segments of Virtually Vicki, my new hit show, where I take famous classic films and refurbish and flavor them for a modern audience. And then there is Citizen Kane, in which we have made a whole conspiracy for me as Rosebud, the femme fatale of the Colorado saloon who continues to appear in Kane’s life as a kind of personification of his conscience. I especially like the part where I bang on the breakfast table between Orson Welles and Ruth Warrick. We have several other important films, including Bicycle Thief and Lages of Fear. By the end of the month I hope to move on to something more modern, like the fairy girl singing and dancing and escorting the boys to Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. Of course, you need to spice up the Nobody’s Just Dancing in Mordor line.
After a few hours of filming these episodes, I was ready to relax a bit, so I had a few glasses of my Southern Comfort eggnog in the home theater and looked at my options. I recently added the Criterion channel to my streaming service, so I browsed through the offers to see what might be available and came across Brian De Palma’s 1980 thriller Dressed to Kill, which I hadn’t seen in the theatres for years. (I know it’s amazing that I saw a 40-year-old movie when I was a professional, but let’s not split hairs). I remember I really liked it back then, so I decided to see if it made sense.
Clothes to Kill comes from the Hitchcockian period of De Palma, where he made films that were direct tributes and comments on the earlier works of this master. He is strongly influenced by Psycho – there is a soul-scene, a bloody murder with a sharp knife, a villain with two personalities, an illicit affair and a brave heroine who is determined to find out everything. It’s not a literal remake (Gus Van Sant made that mistake about ten years later), it just has the same atmosphere and the same tropics. Viewers can make connections during Dressed to Kill or in later analysis, or if they don’t know Psycho, they can just enjoy the film for what it is.
The place was then New York City (today a fascinating document of the time and image of Manhattan in the late 1970s, which no longer exists). Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson), a loose woman from Manhattan who misses her second marriage, one day goes to Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) for routine therapy and then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the museum she starts a seductive flirt with a stranger who turns into a one-night stand. On her way home she was attacked by guilt and killed by her lover in the elevator of a building. Liz (Nancy Allen), a high-ranking call girl, is a witness to the crime. She sees a mysterious blonde woman wearing razor-sharp sunglasses. At the police station, Liz Kate’s son meets Peter (Keith Gordon), a teenage technician determined to solve a crime. They learn that the murder weapon belonged to Dr. Elliot and that he has a mysterious transsexual named Bobby who leaves him threatening messages and steals his razor. A cat and mouse game begins between Liz and Peter, Dr. Elliot, the police and the mysterious Bobby with blonde hair and sunglasses. Will the bad guy be exposed? Will there be small shoots? Will there be a slow movement, an elaborate fighting procedure? Will there be a shocking end? If you know anything about Brian De Palma, you should be able to answer all these questions.
Clothes to Kill is very well directed. Most of the first half hour, with the exception of one dialogue scene between Kate and her son and another between Kate and Dr. Elliot, is silent. We learn everything there is to know about Kate, her feelings and actions through camera movements and small subtle changes in position and body language. The scene in the museum where Kate and the stranger notice each other, begin to flirt and then move on to an increasingly obvious interest and chase is a small cinematic masterpiece. No words are exchanged, but the audience is never confused, and all the little rituals of walking and picking up are there and easy to understand. I notice that the whole scene was based on gay men, but in 1980 Hollywood probably wasn’t quite ready for that in a studio release. Once a murder has been committed and the film becomes a standard thriller, there are still great sets. Of particular importance is the order in which Nancy Allen follows the subway and tries to flee from the man who is chasing her.
Angie Dickinson is very gifted. She was in her fifties at the time of the shooting, and she beautifully captures the ambivalence of an aging woman who is about to lose what she wants. Much has been said about the first, a long shower scene with a body half of Mrs Dickinson, several decades old. That’s one of the few things I don’t like about this movie. De Palma could have taken a page from a Hitchcock play, which is about innuendo, not nudity. I think we tried to get back to the mood of the credits from her last movie, Carrie, but that wasn’t necessary. Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon, who more or less play Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew, are both good. Michael Caine is Login Week. He seems to have completed most of his performance and seems to feel a little uncomfortable with some of his character traits.
That said, Dressed to Kill still plays well, manages his panic attacks on the jump as it should and entertains. Modern social justice activists are likely to oppose the Transgender Killer Trope, a staple of the 1970s, but I don’t mind because most of the conspiracy of the broken personality comes straight from Hitchcock and has to be accepted from the start.
Primitive computer circuits. The missing glove. 8-second exposure of the film. Results of the public health test. Elegant hoods under the floor. Young Dennis Frantz. A disappointing old woman. The climax of the storm.
To find out more about Norman Maine, read our introduction, visit her full catalogue and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester.
Image by TSTS Sheng (CC 2.0)
Mrs. Norman Maine, a native of Seattle Washington, the land of fog, coffee and flying salmon, awoke as an adult, like Athena, from Andy’s head during a difficult period in his life, shortly after moving to Alabama.
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