Dressed to Kill
is a 1980 suspense thriller
written and directed by Brian de Palma
. It stars Michael Caine
, Angie Dickinson
and Nancy Allen
. The original music score is composed by Pino Donaggio
. The film is marketed with the tagline "Brian de Palma, master of the macabre, invites you to a showing of the latest fashion... in murder." It centers on the murder of a housewife, and the investigation headed by the witness to the murder, a young prostitute
, and the housewife’s teenaged son.
The film was the target of some backlash from the gay and transgender communities, who felt that its portrayal of transgender people was misguided and homophobic. The film is rated R by the MPAA and runs at 105 minutes.
Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson
) is a sexually frustrated
housewife and mother who is in therapy with New York City
psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine
). During an appointment with Dr. Elliott, Kate attempts to seduce him, at which point Elliott rejects her advances. Later that day, Kate goes to an art gallery and for ten minutes without any dialog has an unexpected flirtation with a mysterious stranger. Kate and the stranger "stalk" each other through the museum until they finally wind up outside, where Kate joins him in a taxicab. They immediately begin to have sex right there in the cab, and their experience continues at his apartment.
Later, Kate awakens and discreetly leaves while the man is asleep, but not before she rifles through some of his papers and discovers that he has a sexually transmitted disease. Mortified, Kate leaves the apartment and gets in the elevator, but on the way down she realizes that she's left her wedding ring on the stranger's nightstand. She rides back up to retrieve it, but the elevator doors open on the figure of a large, imposing blonde woman in dark sunglasses wielding a straight razor. She slashes Kate to death in the elevator.
Prostitute Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) happens upon the body and catches a glimpse of the killer, therefore becoming both the prime suspect and the killer's next target. Dr. Elliott receives a bizarre answering machine message from "Bobbi", a transsexual he is treating. Bobbi taunts Dr. Elliott for breaking off their therapy sessions, apparently because Dr. Elliott refuses to sign the necessary papers for Bobbi to get a sex change operation. Elliott eventually becomes desperate, visiting Bobbi's new psychiatrist and trying to convince him that Bobbi is a danger to herself and others.
Meanwhile, the police are less than willing to believe Liz's story, and she joins forces with Kate's son Peter to expose the killer. Peter (Keith Gordon) is an inventor, and he uses a series of homemade listening devices and time-lapse cameras to track patients from Elliott's office. They catch Bobbi on camera leaving Elliott's office, but Liz is being stalked by a tall blonde figure in a wig and sunglasses. Bobbi makes several attempts on her life, one of them being thwarted by Peter, who rescues Liz in the nick of time by spraying Bobbi in the New York City Subway with some homemade mace.
Finally Liz and Peter scheme to get into Elliott's office to look at his appointment book and get Bobbi's name. Liz baits Dr. Elliott by coming on to him, and distracts him long enough to make a brief exit and rifle through his appointment book. When she returns, Bobbi rather than Elliott confronts her; they are the same person. Elliott/Bobbi is shot and wounded by the female police officer who looks like Bobbi and has been trailing Liz. Liz recognizes the female cop as the tall blonde figure who was tracking her all along. Elliott is arrested by the police and placed in an insane asylum. It is explained by a psychiatrist that Elliott wanted to be a woman, but his "male" side wouldn't allow him to go through with the operation. Whenever a woman sexually aroused Elliott, "Bobbi", who represents the female side of the doctor's personality, became threatened and killed the source of contention. In the film's final sequence, Elliott escapes from the asylum and slashes Liz in the throat in a bloody act of vengeance, and she wakes up screaming, realizing that Elliot's attack was just a dream.
Awards and nominations
- Won: Best Actress (Angie Dickinson)
- Nominated: Best Director (Brian De Palma)
- Nominated: Best Horror Film
- Nominated: Best Music (Pino Donaggio)
- Nominated: New Star of the Year (Nancy Allen)
- Nominated: Worst Actor (Michael Caine)
- Nominated: Worst Actress (Nancy Allen)
- Nominated: Worst Director (Brian De Palma)
- The film was the target of mild controversy when it became known that the nude body in the opening scene, taking place in a shower, was not that of Angie Dickinson but of a Penthouse model. This controversy stemmed mostly from Dickinson's status at the time as being a mature, still-slender and shapely, sex symbol; the provocative shower scene - and the film - originally seemed to cash in on the idea that this nude body was that of its star. However, this revelation of a body-double (a theme later explored by director De Palma in his 1984 release, Body Double) seemed to do no harm to its box office performance.
- There were two versions of the film, an R rated version and an unrated version. The unrated version was only longer by seconds that showed more genitalia in the above-mentioned shower scene and more blood in the elevator scene.
- Both Sean Connery and Liv Ullmann were approached in early 1979 by De Palma to appear as Elliot and Kate, but both passed on the project.
- William Finley, of DePalma's Sisters and Phantom of the Paradise, provides the telephone voice of Bobbi.
- Actress Rachel Ticotin (Total Recall) receives an early screen credit as a production assistant on this movie.
- In an episode of The Golden Girls ("Dorthy's New Friend"), a reference to the film is made when it is joked about how Blanche used to tell people, and even put in her resume, that she was Angie Dickinson's body-double in the shower scene.
- In the comic strip Doonesbury the title character Mike Doonesbury and his future wife (and Ex Wife.) JJ Doonesbury went to see the film on their first date.