Tag Archives: Nancy Allen

Dressed to Kill (1980, Brian De Palma)

Dressed to Kill has oodles of style. It doesn’t have a lot else going for it–a lot of the acting, sure, but the acting never pays off for anyone–but it does have style. Director De Palma and cinematographer Ralf D. Bode create an ethereal New York for the action to play out in.

The film opens with sexually dissatisfied housewife Angie Dickinson fantasizing about, well, something more satisfying. De Palma’s got Pino Donaggio music and Donaggio music can get away with a lot but even it can make a smutty shower scene play. The film then introduces Keith Gordon as Dickinson’s technology nerd teenage son before bringing in top-billed Michael Caine. He’s Dickinson’s therapist. She goes to therapy before she goes to the museum to pick up a man.

After picking up the man, which isn’t a good pickup sequence at all, but is a fantastically executed bit of filmmaking. Dickinson’s walking around the museum, everything’s silent, and it’s just great. Bode, De Palma, editor Gerald B. Greenberg, it’s awesome.

When she wakes up at the man’s apartment, Dickinson finds herself involved in a bloody homicide. Nancy Allen comes into the film at this point to also witness the murder, setting off Allen’s story line. The killer is after her, it turns out, eventually leading to her teaming up with Gordon.

Caine’s in it because he’s pretty sure the killer is another one of his patients, though he doesn’t want to give that information to cop Dennis Franz. Franz, meanwhile, is trying to get Allen to help on the case. She’s a sex worker and he’s sort of blackmailing her? Franz is a creep. When De Palma tries to do a denouement redemption of Franz, it’s one of Dressed’s worst moments. De Palma’s script is occasionally jaw-dropping in its pure stupidity, but the redemption of Franz is something else. Especially given it comes through the big “explanation” scene (out of Psycho, natch, with that museum pickup being out of Vertigo) where De Palma manages to be–at least what appears to be–unintentionally transphobic.

One of Dressed’s big plot twists–it’s got at least two, maybe three depending on how you want to count the minor ones (because then there are plenty of minor “twists”)–involves a transsexual person. Dressed to Kill is exploitation. It’s gorgeous, it’s got sometimes A list stars, but it’s exploitation. Yet when De Palma brings in gender dysphoria, it doesn’t seem like he’s using it as a punchline. Because he butchers what he’s doing with it, bringing in multiple personalities and whatnot. The script is really, really stupid. It’s hard to explain how unintentionally stupid Dressed to Kill can get.

And not when De Palma’s intending it either. He has quite a few split screen shots in the film, which works in maybe two cases, but never with Dickinson. Dickinson has the split screen shots to remember something sexual or somehow related to sex. Given how little material De Palma actually gives Dickinson to work with in the script, her performance is incredibly impressive.

But De Palma doesn’t direct the actors poorly. He often directs them quite well. Everyone gets good direction. Even Dennis Franz. It’s just Franz is one step too far. Dressed to Kill’s fairytale New York City clashes with Franz’s lounge lizard detective.

Allen’s decent throughout, occasionally downright excellent. Dickinson’s good. The script does her no favors and neither does Greenberg’s editing (everything else he can edit, but not Dickinson’s reaction and pensive close-ups), but she’s good. Caine’s fine. De Palma doesn’t really give him a lot to do. He meanders through the film.

Gordon’s good. He’s really likable. The likable part is more important. Once he and Allen are hanging out, there’s this strange lack of sexual energy, like only the adults in De Palma movies get to be sex-crazed. And they’re mostly all sex-crazed and De Palma wants to talk about it. A De Palma scripted interchange between a sex worker and a therapist is simultaneously cringe-inducing and mesmerizing.

Dressed to Kill is, overall, cringe-inducing and mesmerizing. It looks beautiful. It sounds beautiful. It’s just vapid. Sometime in the second act, it seems like it might get a little less vapid.

It doesn’t. But it still moves pretty well. There’s an unfortunate false ending, coming after some of the biggest third act problems, but the quality of the filmmaking–and Allen’s performance–gets it through. And brings up the film a bit.

A bit is a lot for Dressed to Kill.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Brian De Palma; director of photography, Ralf D. Bode; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by George Litto; released by Filmways Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Doctor Robert Elliott), Angie Dickinson (Kate Miller), Nancy Allen (Liz Blake), Keith Gordon (Peter Miller), Dennis Franz (Detective Marino), and David Margulies (Dr. Levy).


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Robocop (1987, Paul Verhoeven), the director's cut

There are a lot of acknowledged accomplishments to Robocop. Pretty much everyone identifies Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett. Bottin handled the startling makeup, Tippett did the awesome stop motion. Director Verhoeven gets a lot of credit–rightly so–and Basil Poledouris’s score is essential. Big scene or small, whenever Poledouris’s music kicks in, the film hits every note better.

One scene in particular is the Robocop in his old house sequence–which is just after Peter Weller starts to get the role as a character and not an automation; seeing Weller make that transition is amazing because he can’t do it with expressions, only pause.

That scene’s also fantastic for the unacknowledged Robocop accomplishment–Jost Vacano’s photography. He’s the one who makes the film feel real. Well, along with Verhoeven and the writers distaste for the cool-looking future they create. The writers are able to get in some great observations, but they never let the future get too real. It focuses the story’s attention unexpectedly well.

It doesn’t hurt the film’s perfectly acted. Easy examples are Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer, but everyone’s great. Nancy Allen is the perfect sidekick for Weller. Given how fast their characters get established in the film, they have to work well together immediately and they do.

Verhoeven’s the real star–he, Weller and Bottin, actually. Without Bottin and Weller, Robocop wouldn’t seem real, but without Verhoeven the film wouldn’t work. His approach to the violence–and the quiet–are essential to Robocop’s success.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Frank J. Urioste; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Arne Schmidt; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (Officer Alex J. Murphy), Nancy Allen (Officer Anne Lewis), Dan O’Herlihy (The Old Man), Ronny Cox (Dick Jones), Kurtwood Smith (Clarence J. Boddicker), Miguel Ferrer (Bob Morton), Robert DoQui (Sergeant Warren Reed), Ray Wise (Leon C. Nash), Felton Perry (Johnson), Paul McCrane (Emil M. Antonowsky), Jesse D. Goins (Joe P. Cox), Del Zamora (Kaplan), Calvin Jung (Steve Minh), Rick Lieberman (Walker) and Lee de Broux (Sal).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | THE ROBOCOP TRILOGY.

Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)

In terms of De Palma’s direction, Carrie is a little bit of a mess. It’s a combination of Hitchcock as camp–which really cuts into the effectiveness of the finale–more religious imagery than, say, The Ten Commandments and, finally, some truly brilliant composition from De Palma. He, cinematography Mario Tosi and editor Paul Hirsch create a sometimes transcendent experience.

Sadly, the technical talent–including Pino Donaggio’s lovely score–and good performances don’t overpower the script problems. De Palma falls into the horror standard of using a big surprise ending to avoid having to include, you know, an actual ending. Someone seems to have misplaced Carrie‘s third act.

Some of the trouble probably stems from how much the filmmakers are hiding from the viewer. That aspect plays, unfortunately, into the Hitchcock camp factor I mentioned earlier. De Palma never figures out how seriously he wants to take the film–he’s often either slathering on the religion or making it a tad too goofy. The film’s at its best when he can’t do either, because the scenes need actual content. De Palma’s only goofy when he can fiddle with the pacing.

Sissy Spacek’s excellent in the lead, though she’s not really the protagonist or even the main character. The film forgets about her for long stretches. Nancy Allen’s also excellent as her evil antagonist. William Katt’s quite good too.

Piper Laurie’s okay, nothing more, as the psychotically religious mother.

The strong first half nearly makes up for the misfired finish.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Mario Tosi; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by Paul Monash; released by United Artists.

Starring Sissy Spacek (Carrie White), Betty Buckley (Miss Collins), Piper Laurie (Margaret White), William Katt (Tommy Ross), Nancy Allen (Chris Hargensen), Amy Irving (Sue Snell), John Travolta (Billy Nolan), P.J. Soles (Norma Watson), Priscilla Pointer (Mrs. Snell), Sydney Lassick (Mr. Fromm) and Stefan Gierasch (Mr. Morton).


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Robocop 2 (1990, Irvin Kershner)

I remember in 1991, when I was visiting a friend and he showed me the Robocop movies (there were only two at the time, of course)–I’m tempted to go on a tangent about when one could still show someone movies… you kind of lose that opportunity with adulthood, then you just get to recommend. Anyway, after watching the two films, I commented the villains were better in the first one. He responded, “You read that in a review.” And now I’m writing it in one.

There are three major problems with Robocop 2. First, the villains. They aren’t as good, even though many of them are well-acted by their performers. It’s actually a cheap list item, because it so directly relates to the second major problem. Robocop 2 has little to do with Robocop. There are attempts to give Robocop a story in the film, but they stop pretending after a while, during the long sequences he’s off-screen all together. Robocop 2 is more about the bad guys than the hero, who’s possible journey is knee-capped in the first fifteen or twenty minutes. Robocop’s an inherently tragic figure–he’s the hero who never gets a reward–and the film would rather ignore him than deal with him.

The third problem has, big shock, a lot to do with the first two problems. Nothing really happens for the first hour. Nothing really good anyway. The first hour is spent engineering the second hour, allowing for the scenes to take place. Obviously, a plot complicates and a plot progresses, but Robocop 2’s script is pretty incompetent in terms of plotting. The lousy villains are also the script’s fault, specifically Frank Miller’s, who’s done enough work (and had his original script adapted to a comic book) to have the blame easily assigned. I’m not sure if it’s his fault Robocop 2 isn’t about Robocop… it might have something more to do with the first film being incapable of providing an easy sequel.

Now for the good. Irvin Kershner is a sturdy director. He doesn’t get to really shine until the big action ending–when it’s a mix of Kershner’s direction, Phil Tippett’s unbelievably wonderful stop motion, and Leonard Rosenman’s score. The film also takes forever to have any action scenes of merit–script’s fault–with most of the early ones being boring, unimaginative shootouts (contrived to progress the plot as conveniently as possible).

Peter Weller’s good as Robocop, though he’s got very little to do throughout the film. Nancy Allen kind of hangs out in a practical cameo (Patricia Charbonneau–in an uncredited performance–has more resonance). Tom Noonan’s good as the villain, Gabriel Damon’s good as the evil Frank Miller kid villain. The corporate villains, Belinda Bauer, Dan O’Herlihy, Jeff McCarthy and, in particular, Felton Perry, are all good.

The film has very little to do with the first one–it’s a sequel to the first film’s success, rather than the characters and their struggles in it–but it’s well-produced.

The grand action finale is amazing to see. Robocop 2 becomes a monster-on-the-loose movie all of a sudden and Kershner produces a great sequence. It’s also at night, one of the film’s few scenes at night… it really helps. In fact, it closes so well, one can almost (but not really) forget the first hour of the film.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Irvin Kershner; screenplay by Frank Miller and Walon Green, based on a story by Miller and characters created by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Deborah Zeitman, Lee Smith and Armen Minasian; music by Leonard Rosenman; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Jon Davison; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (RoboCop), Nancy Allen (Anne Lewis), Jeff McCarthy (Holzgang), Felton Perry (Donald Johnson), Daniel O’Herlihy (The Old Man), Belinda Bauer (Juliette Faxx), Tom Noonan (Cain), Gabriel Damon (Hob), Galyn Gorg (Angie), Mario Machado (Casey Wong), Leeza Gibbons (Jesse Perkins), Roger Aaron Brown (Whittaker), Mark Rolston (Stef), Willard Pugh (Mayor Kuzak), Robert DoQui (Sergeant Reed) and Stephen Lee (Duffy).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | THE ROBOCOP TRILOGY.