Dressed to Kill (1980 film)
Dressed to Kill

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by George Litto
Written by Brian De Palma
Starring Michael Caine
Angie Dickinson
Nancy Allen
Keith Gordon
Music by Pino Donaggio
Cinematography Ralf D. Bode
Editing by Gerald B. Greenberg
Distributed by Filmways
Release date(s) July 25, 1980 (1980-07-25)
Running time 105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6,500,000 (est.)
Box office $31,899,000

Dressed to Kill is a 1980 erotic crime thriller film written and directed by Brian De Palma. It stars Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson and Nancy Allen in a Golden Globe nominated performance. 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 transphobic. In addition, De Palma was accused of being misogynistic by feminist groups.[citation needed]



Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is a sexually frustrated housewife who is in therapy with New York City psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine). During an appointment, Kate attempts to seduce him, but Elliott rejects her advances. Kate goes to the Metropolitan Museum and, in a critically applauded ten-minute sequence played entirely without dialogue, she 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 taxi. They immediately begin to have sex in the cab, and continue at his apartment. Hours later, Kate awakens and decides to discreetly leave while the man, Warren Lockman, is asleep. Kate sits at his desk to leave Warren a note and finds a document indicating that he has contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Mortified, she leaves the apartment but on the way out realizes that she has left her wedding ring on the stranger's nightstand, and she returns to retrieve it. The elevator doors open on the figure of a tall, blonde woman in dark sunglasses wielding a straight razor. Kate is slashed to death in the elevator.

A high-priced call girl, 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. Elliott receives a bizarre answering machine message from "Bobbi", a transgender person he is treating. Bobbi taunts the psychiatrist for breaking off their therapy sessions, apparently because Elliott refuses to sign the necessary papers for Bobbi to get a sex change operation. Elliott eventually visits Bobbi's new doctor and tries to convince him that Bobbi is a danger to herself and others. The police are less than willing to believe Liz's story, so she joins forces with Kate's revenge-minded son Peter (Keith Gordon) to find the killer. Peter is an inventor, and uses a series of homemade listening devices and time-lapse cameras to track patients from Elliott's office. They catch Bobbi on camera, and soon Liz is being stalked by a tall blonde figure in sunglasses.

Several attempts are made on Liz's life. One, in the New York City Subway, is thwarted by Peter, who sprays Bobbi with homemade mace. Liz and Peter scheme to get inside Elliott's office to look at his appointment book and learn Bobbi's real name. Liz baits the therapist by stripping to lingerie and coming on to him, distracting him long enough to make a brief exit and leaf through his appointment book. When she returns, it is Bobbi rather than Dr. Elliott who confronts her; they are the same person. Elliott/Bobbi is shot and wounded by a female police officer who looks like Bobbi: she is the tall blonde figure who was trailing Liz. Elliott is arrested by the police and placed in an insane asylum. It is explained by a psychiatrist (David Margulies) that Elliott wanted to be a woman, but his "male" side would not allow him to go through with the operation. Whenever a woman sexually aroused Elliott, it was "Bobbi", who represented the female side of the doctor's personality, who became threatened. In a final sequence, Elliott escapes from the asylum and slashes Liz's throat in a bloody act of vengeance. She wakes up screaming, realizing that it was just a dream as Peter runs to her bed to comfort her.


Cast notes

Awards and honors

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 Penthouse model Victoria Lynn.[1] This controversy stemmed mostly from Dickinson's status at the time as being a 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. Several critics said that De Palma was pushing the envelope with the film's graphic sex scenes, including Dickinson masturbating in the shower and later being raped in a daydream passage; a common criticism was that De Palma was exploiting sex for the purpose of keeping it on screen. Others felt he wanted to put it on film for the sake of his own career. In the gay community, others felt De Palma was propagating negative stereotypes of gay and transgender people. Several feminist groups said the film degraded women. De Palma said in defense that he made a film which itself was a dark "sexual fantasy", a piece that was meant to be a fantasy to begin with.

There were two versions of the film in North America, 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.

The film is rated  R18  in New Zealand for its sexual violence. Dressed to Kill currently holds an 84% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert awarded the film 3 stars out of 4.


External links

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