Caine’s Cross-Dressing Cinematic Controversy…
A woman is brutally murdered in a lift. The prime witness is believed to be the murderer and investigates the murder with the victim’s son.
Dressed to Kill Official Trailer #1 – Michael Caine Movie (1980) HD, Movieclips Trailer Vault and pictures © Filmways Pictures.
Reading through De Palma’s filmography, I’d only seen a few of his films namely the horror Carrie (1976) – the original film – the first Mission Impossible film (1996) and Snake Eyes (1998), with Nicholas Cage. So wanting to see more of De Palma’s work, and a huge Michael Caine fan, I leapt on the chance of watching another of his 1980s movies – my favourite Michael Caine film time period – Dressed to Kill (1980) for this Blogathon.
So for the first time, I watched this thriller, which on its release was controversial due to the transsexual and mental health storyline. Feminists claimed it was misogynistic indirectly promoting the film. It was both written and directed by De Palma. IMDb reports this storyline was based on De Palma’s early “film career” when he was asked to follow his father with recording equipment as his mother suspected he was cheating on her. De Palma appears to have used this experience and adding a female lead, played by his then wife.
In my eyes, Caine is a fantastic versatile actor who never disappoints me and I love his work but not in a creepy Misery (1990) kind of way. So Michael, if you reading this, you can safely visit Finland in the snow without fear of being hobbled. As a teen of the 1980s, I was introduced to a variety of Michael Caine movies by my parents and I remember enjoying him in all film genres from comedy to thriller, from war to romance. I was then in total awe when my uncle reported he’d had lunch in the same restaurant as him.
My favourites were his romantic comedy films such as Sweet Liberty (1986), Surrender (1987) and Blame it on Rio (1984) and his horror films – usually more amusing than horror to be fair – namely The Hand (1981) and The Swarm (1978). Now I have recent good memories of watching these movies with my own family such as The Italian Job (1969) and Zulu (1964), and so Caine’s talents and films are now shared with my stepdudes.
The film starts with Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) in the shower, Miller is an attractive blonde in her late forties. There she is raped by a man and this scene transpires to have been a fantasy. De Palma used a Playboy model for this scene as a homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). We cut to Miller making love with her husband, in comparison to the dream, she is more mechanical and going through the motions. We then follow her day, initially talking with her tech wizard son Peter (Keith Gordon) about the latest gadget he’s created.
Later she visits her psychiatrist Dr Robert Elliott (Caine) where she talks about how dissatisfied she is with her love life and with her husband. She then makes a pass at Elliott, who turns her down. Afterwards, on visiting a museum, she is aware of a stranger.
After making eye contact with him, and “accidentally” dropping her glove they play a game of cat and mouse through the museum. The musical score here replaces the dialogue as she searches for him in the museum, as we travel through the museum with her with the camera work showing this journey as she sees it.
As the accompanying music reaches a crescendo you can almost feel her frustration as she realises how futile this is and gives up leaving the museum. Then she spots him with her glove in a taxi. They leave together kissing passionately and start to undress. No Way Out (1987) this is not so we don’t cut to historical landmarks.
After spending much time with him, she wakes up and dresses and leaves her wedding ring behind. After returning for it, she is brutally killed by a mysterious blonde woman as she enters the lift. On the lift opening, the murderer flees and Miller’s body found by young Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) who inadvertently picks up the weapon used, a man’s razor.
Elliott meanwhile has been listening to an answerphone message machine, this caller Bobbi is unhappy with Elliott as he has not given consent to go ahead with their sex change operation. Elliott, Liz Blake and Miller’s son, Peter are brought in to be questioned by the police. Liz tries to clear her name with Marino, a police detective.
Marino questions Elliott about his clients but he keeps the information about Bobbi confidential. After Elliott receives another call from Bobbi, he is concerned and speaks with a colleague fearing for Bobbi and other’s safety. Blake believes she is being followed by the murderer. After this, the story leads us through twists and leads to an ending, all of which I won’t reveal.
On reviewing this film further, I felt that the story was extremely effective in showing the character’s storyline without dialogue, using scene cut shots concurring with their thoughts and actions. I feel Miller’s story could have been condensed more with more attention put into other characters.
Elliot and Peter’s characters were almost supporting characters to the actresses’ parts. The transsexual storyline was dismissed as a mental illness when discussed by characters. Although the storyline started well with suspense, it became more silly as the film progressed, especially in the final scenes which ended on a pointless trope in that it helped to carry the ending of another De Palma film.
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Brian De Palma Blogathon 2016, No 16
This was added to the Brian De Palma blogathon run by Seetimaar – Diary of a Movie Lover. Michael Caine’s films have also been mentioned in the following reviews The Fourth Protocol, The Eagle has Landed, The Prestige, Blame it on Rio, The Hand, The Swarm, Interstellar and many more.