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Dressed to Kill (1980 film)

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Title: Dressed to Kill (1980 film)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Nancy Allen (actress), Brian De Palma, Terror in the Aisles, List of film director and actor collaborations, Sex in film
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

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
Music by Pino Donaggio
Cinematography Ralf D. Bode
Edited by Gerald B. Greenberg
Cinema 77/Film Group
Distributed by Filmways Pictures
Release dates
  • July 25, 1980 (1980-07-25)
Running time
104 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million[2]
Box office $31.9 million[2]

Dressed to Kill is a 1980 American erotic crime thriller film written and directed by Brian De Palma and starring Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon. It centers on the murder of a housewife and an investigation involving a young prostitute who witnessed the murder, the victim’s teenage son, and her psychiatrist. The original music score is composed by Pino Donaggio.

De Palma originally wanted Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann to play Kate Miller, but she declined because of the violence. The role then went on to Angie Dickinson. Sean Connery was offered the role of Robert Elliot and was enthusiastic about it, but declined on account of previous commitments. Seven years after the film's release, Connery would finally have his chance with De Palma in his Oscar-winning role in The Untouchables (1987).


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. In a ten-minute sequence 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 begin to have sex and continue at his apartment, unaware that Kate has left her underwear on the floor of the cab.

Hours later, Kate awakens and, thoroughly satisfied with her evening, 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 in her haste, she has left her wedding ring on the stranger's nightstand, so she returns to retrieve it.

The elevator doors open on the figure of a tall, blonde woman in dark sunglasses wielding a straight razor, and Kate is slashed to death in the elevator (a murder scene De Palma has called the best he has ever done).[3] A high-priced call girl, Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), happens upon the body. She 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 transgender patient. 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 tries to convince Dr. Levy, the patient's new doctor, that Bobbi is a danger to herself and others.

A police detective, Marino (Dennis Franz), is skeptical about Liz's story, partly due to her profession, so Liz joins forces with Kate's revenge-minded son Peter to find the killer. Peter, an inventor, uses a series of homemade listening devices and time-lapse cameras to track patients leaving Elliott's office. They catch Bobbi on camera, and soon Liz is being stalked by a tall blonde figure in sunglasses. Several attempts are subsequently 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 learn Bobbi's real name by getting inside Dr. Elliott's office. 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. Peter is watching through the window when a blonde lady pulls him away. When Liz returns, a blonde with a razor confronts her; The blonde outside shoots and wounds the blonde inside, the wig falls off and it is Dr. Elliott, revealing that he is also Bobbi. The blonde who shot Bobbi is actually a female police officer, revealing herself to be the blonde who has been trailing Liz.

Elliott is arrested and placed in an insane asylum. It is explained by Dr. Levy 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," representing 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, Peter rushing to her side, realizing that it was just a dream.


The nude body in the opening scene, taking place in a shower, was not that of Angie Dickinson but of 1977 Penthouse Pet of the Year model Victoria Lynn Johnson.[4]

Awards and honors

Won: Best Actress - Angie Dickinson
Nominated: Best Director - Brian De Palma (lost to Irvin Kershner for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
Nominated: Best Horror or Thriller Film (lost to The Howling)
Nominated: Best Music - Pino Donaggio (lost to John Barry for Somewhere in Time)
Nominated: New Star of the Year - Nancy Allen (lost to Nastassja Kinski in Tess)
Nominated: Worst Actor - Michael Caine (lost to Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer)
Nominated: Worst Actress - Nancy Allen (lost to Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon)
Nominated: Worst Director - Brian De Palma (lost to Robert Greenwald in Xanadu)

American Film Institute


Dressed to Kill currently holds an 84% "fresh" rating on [7] In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of 4, calling it a "High-tension melodrama", and stating "De Palma works on viewers' emotions, not logic, and maintains a fever pitch from start to finish." He also praised Pino Donaggio's "chilling music score."[8] "The performers are excellent, especially Miss Dickinson," wrote Vincent Canby in his July 25, 1980 New York Times review. When Hitchcock was told that Brian De Palma intended Dressed to Kill as an homage to his movies he responded “You mean fromage.” [9]

Two versions of the film exist in North America, an R-rated version and an unrated version. The unrated version is around 30 seconds longer and shows more pubic hair in the shower scene, more blood in the elevator scene (including a close-up shot of the killer slitting Kate's throat), and some sexier dialogue from Liz during the scene in Elliott's office. These scenes were trimmed when the MPAA originally gave the film an "X" rating.

Allen earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best New Star, but a Razzie nomination as well. Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, a fan of De Palma, was influenced to write True Romance because of this film, pointing to Nancy Allen's performance as the inspiration for the film's leading woman.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b (1980)"Dressed to Kill". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-02-05.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Kenny, Glenn (September 06, 2011). "Dressed To Kill"Ron Jeremy on Brian De Palma's . Some Came Running. Retrieved 2012-02-05.
  5. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
  6. ^ Dressed to Kill at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Dressed to Kill". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-02-05.
  8. ^
  9. ^

External links

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