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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interviews with actor Nancy Allen, producer George Litto, composer Pino Donaggio, shower-scene body double Victoria Lynn Johnson, and poster photographic art director Stephen Sayadian
  • New profile of cinematographer Ralf Bode, featuring filmmaker Michael Apted
  • The Making of "Dressed to Kill," a 2001 documentary featuring De Palma
  • Interview with actor-director Keith Gordon from 2001
  • Video pieces from 2001 about the different versions of the film and the cuts made to avoid an X rating
  • Gallery of storyboards by De Palma
  • Trailer

Dressed to Kill

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Brian De Palma
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, David Margulies
1980 | 105 Minutes | Licensor: MGM Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #770
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 8, 2015
Review Date: August 2, 2015

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SYNOPSIS

Brian De Palma ascended to the highest ranks of American suspense filmmaking with this virtuoso, explicit erotic thriller. At once tongue-in-cheek and scary as hell, Dressed to Kill revolves around the grisly murder of a woman in Manhattan, and what happens when her psychiatrist, her brainiac teenage son, and the prostitute who witnessed the crime try to piece together what happened while the killer remains at large. With its masterfully executed scenes of horror, voluptuous camera work, and passionate score, Dressed to Kill is a veritable symphony of terror, enhanced by vivid performances by Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, and Nancy Allen.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents the original unrated version of Brian De Palma’s thriller Dressed to Kill on Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation, approved by De Palma, is taken from a new 4K restoration, scanned from the original camera negative, as well as a 35mm interpositive for a few sequences.

This may be one of the more frustrating presentations to come from Criterion because you can see how amazing it would have turned out if it wasn’t for one rather huge glaring issue. Touching on the good aspects first the image is razor sharp with stunning detail, improving over Arrow’s presentation which looks a little muddy and fuzzy in comparison. Textures are particularly superb, at times looking like you can reach out and touch them, and the sense of depth is also fairly strong (though this is hampered a bit by an issue I’ll touch on later). It’s incredibly crisp, and easily the sharpest I’ve ever seen the film.

Colours do differ a bit in comparison to every release since MGM’s 2001 DVD. Here the colours are noticeably washed out a little more, though they aren’t overly dull. They can still look fairly vibrant and the reds (found in the blood particularly) are the strongest aspect. Black levels are also very good and crushing wasn’t an issue. I was more than fine with it and I wouldn’t be surprised if colours were closer to this when it was released and the look works for the film. Still, many will have their personal preference on this and will probably prefer the colours used for all of the other releases since the DVD.

So, to a certain extent I was very pleased with what we got, and the first 21-minutes look great. The transfer was clean and stable, presenting natural looking grain, no noticeable digital tinkering, and a wonderfully filmic quality. Even the clean-up job is impressive, wiping out just about all imperfections, the only real issue I noticed being some fading on the edges of the screen a few times. It looks great… Until roughly the 21-minute mark—when Angie Dickinson’s character runs out after the man she was tailing in the museum—where the transfer makes a questionable turn.

If the colours to the film are debatable this next aspect isn’t: for whatever reason the rest of the film, a little bit after that 21-minute mark (I’m guessing after a reel change) the image becomes horizontally squished. This of course creates the odd effect that causes everything and everyone to look unnaturally skinny with enlarged foreheads. And this isn’t some mild annoyance that only becomes obvious here and there: it’s right there in your face. True, there are a few scenes where the problem doesn’t stand out as much as others, but this probably has more to do with framing and positioning. I watched the film a second time to verify where the squishing occurs now that I was aware of it, and yes, a little bit after the 21-minute point the squeezing starts and never lets up.

It’s a bewildering issue more because of the fact no one seemed to notice this. It was supervised and approved by De Palma but he didn’t see? And it’s not like it’s a subtle problem: it’s pretty obvious and you don’t need any sort of side-by-side comparison to notice, especially when weird artifacts show up because of it. Take for example the scene where Michael Caine and Paul Margulies are conversing as they walk down a staircase, the camera circles them and creates all sorts of distortions in the frame as the geometry of the stairs change, becoming stretched or compressed with each turn of the camera. If no one noticed the problem is it intentional then? A VHS tape I had first seen the film on, cropped to 4x3 of course, actually did squish in the image at times throughout the film to aid in keeping some of the widescreen compositions (anybody who saw Die Hard on VHS will remember these effects). But this was done mostly for the diopter shots and the split screen sequence, along with a few other moments where pan-and-scan wasn’t going to cut it. That made sense then (though was no less annoying, and obviously widescreen would have been better) but doing the same thing here, when the image is actually presented in widescreen, makes no sense. Plus if it was intentional why are the first 21-minutes normal? I can only believe it’s a mistake but I am still stunned it wasn’t something that was noticed, and it’s a shame because this had the potential to be one hell of a presentation. Just an incredible disappointment.

5/10 (Original score for first printing)

Update (Aug 4, 2015): Criterion has made an update about the release and that they will be offering discs without the squeezing effect. I have provided a sample of the e-mail below:

In the course of preparing the master for Criterion’s new release of Dressed to Kill, director Brian De Palma asked if there was anything that could be done to correct what he felt was a distortion in the image that caused everyone to appear slightly wide or squat. A modest anamorphic compression was applied, and De Palma was satisfied. On reviewing the final product, we feel the adjustment doesn’t accurately reflect the look of the film, and we are reauthoring discs without the squeeze and will make them available to all purchasers of our release of Dressed to Kill free of charge. Simply write to Jon Mulvaney (mulvaney@criterion.com) with your name, address, and some proof of purchase, such as a receipt, and we will send you a corrected copy. We regret the inconvenience, but we hope that in the end all of our customers will end up with a copy of Dressed to Kill that accurately reflects the film as well as the director’s intentions.

All the best,
Jon Mulvaney

Update (Aug 6, 2015): Criterion has stated they are delaying the release until September 8th to fix the issue with the transfer.

Update (Sept 10, 2015): Criterion has released the corrected second printing and what an improvement! As stated before I stand-by my assessment that this presentation offers better clarity and definition in comparison to previous editions like the Arrow release. Colours are still the same as the first printing, looking admittedly more washed out in comparison to previous editions but I still say they look fine and the tones work with the film. Depth looks great, detail is superb, and other than some slight fading on the edge of the frame here and there the print is in superb shape.

Criterion has of course removed that squishing effect found on the first printing, which was of course the whole reason for delaying the release and re-pressing. The image now looks far more natural and clean and all of the positive aspects of the transfer I saw initially during the first 20-minutes of the first release stand out. This release is the best presentation of the film I’ve yet seen and worth picking up for this aspect alone.

(Interestingly the clips of the film used in the Criterion created special feature are still using the squished transfer for those curious as to what it looked like).

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film’s original audio track is presented here in lossless linear 1.0 PCM mono. The 5.1 remix, which was found on the MGM and Arrow Blu-rays, has not been included here.

It’s an effective mono track, clean and clear without any noticeable damage or noise. Dialogue is easy to hear and Pino Donaggio’s score sounds great, never screeching or coming off harsh during its higher moments, and range can be rather staggering. It’s a mono track but a fairly impressive one.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion does top previous editions in one area: the supplements. Criterion ports over the old MGM supplements but also adds on a number of their own, starting with a new interview with Brian De Palma conducted by Noah Baumbach. Baumbach asks De Palma about how he came up with the story and asks the development process behind the film, from setting up the various long sequences, to filming the actors to project the desired emotional effect, and the use of music throughout. They also talk about the controversies surrounding the film’s release, along with the Hitchcock touches. Surprisingly it’s only 19-minutes but they’re an effective 19-minutes.

Criterion also gets a new interview with Nancy Allen, running about 16-minutes, where the actress talks about that period of her life, first getting married to De Palma while taking a break during filming of 1941 and then watching him work on the script to Dressed to Kill. She recalls how visual the script was and how impressed she was with it, only to be thrilled when she found out he had written what was really the starring role for her. She then talks about developing the character, from the actual research to how the costumes even aided in the process. She also talks about the difficulty in shooting some of De Palma’s more elaborate sequences, where timing is everything, giving a play by play on a couple of scenes. Short, but again it manages to be wonderfully indepth.

Producer George Litto next talks about his films with De Palma: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out, obviously proud of the films that came out of the collaboration (he also feels that the museum sequence in Dressed to Kill is one of the best pieces of filmmaking he has ever seen). Composer Pino Donaggio next talks about the film’s score and his collaborations with De Palma over the years, and how De Palma uses his music. He’s most proud of the music he created for the museum sequence, and explains how he studied the scene extensively to get the right momentum and feel. Both interviews are insightful and entertaining, running 12-minutes and 16-minutes respectively.

The next supplement is a bit of a surprise but proves to be a rather great inclusion: an interview with Victoria Lynn Johnson, Angie Dickinson’s body double in the film. She talks about the casting process she went through and then what it was like working with De Palma, who surprised her with his attention to detail. She never felt uncomfortable with the scene or situation, was pleased it was a “legitimate” film (the cast helped her feel better about the project), and she talks about her brief moment of fame when it came out she was Dickinson’s double. It runs 9-minutes.

My favourite of the new features, though, may be an interview with Stephen Sayadian, who worked on the photograph used for the poster art for the film. This 10-minute interview is particularly fascinating because it looks at the marketing industry for low budget horror films at the time, which was actually built from work in the porn industry, from ads for Hustler to cover designs for VHS (Sayadian says he received complaints that his company’s video art made the films look way better than they actually were). From here he then talks about shooting the photo that would eventually be used for the poster art, from gathering together props (like the shoes) to getting the people to pose for it. He also talks about an alternate photo shoot and the finished product we see here is probably more appropriate for the film (Sayadian admits they hadn’t seen the film yet when they shot the first one), though De Palma apparently chose to use the other one. It’s a fairly funny feature giving some great insight into an industry that gets somewhat overlooked.

Criterion then includes the 2001 documentary included on MGM’s DVD (and has also appeared on MGM’s and Arrow’s respective Blu-rays) The Making of Dressed to Kill. The lengthy 45-minute documentary coves the film’s genesis, production, and release. It features interviews with Dickinson, Allen, Gordon, De Palma, Dennis Franz, and others. Like most documentary features that appeared on MGM DVDs back in the day it’s a solid, very informative doc, but unfortunately, similar to Arrow’s disc, most of the material is repeated in the other new features on the disc. Still, it’s worth watching to get De Palma’s insights into the film (primarily his annoyance at the cuts he had to make, which he doesn’t really get into in the new interview found here) and it also offers more in-depth analysis of key sequences in the film.

Criterion then sees fit to include a tribute to the film’s director of photography, Ralf Bode. Called Defying Categories: Ralf Bode it features his brother, experimental video artist Peer Bode, and director Michael Apted. Peer brings a more personal angle to the feature, talking about his brother’s work and his early experimentation with the camera. Apted, though, offers the most praise. Apted states he had absolutely nothing to do with Dressed to Kill but he wanted to come on here to talk about Bode and give him the recognition he feels he never got. He praises his work and how he was able to adapt to each film. It’s a loving tribute looking at the man’s work.

Criterion then includes more material from the MGM DVD. There’s Slashing Dressed to Kill, a 10-minute feature about the film’s heavy edits to avoid an X-rating. It give a more thorough look into negotiations that went on to get the film out as close to De Palma’s vision as possible, and it shows an angry De Palma, who was also annoyed by the misogynistic claims thrown at him.

An Appreciation by Keith Gordon is a short 6-minute bit featuring Keith Gordon (who would go on to become a director) talking about his admiration for the film and De Palma’s style. This was taken from the original DVD as well and as decent but somewhat fluffy addition. Arrow actually recorded a newer interview with Gordon for their release that was far more insightful and engaging. Disappointingly Criterion couldn’t do the same.

The disc then features a selection of storyboards created by De Palma addressing the opening scene and the split screen sequence midway through. Presented here as full sheets and then as individual frames that you can navigate through using your remote, the drawings are incredibly crude (they’re basically just stick figures) but clearly draw out the camera movements and edits.

A Film Comparison is also from the DVD and it offers a comparison between the various versions of the film, with a split screen presenting the obvious and more subtle differences in the editing between the R-rate and Unrated versions for the shower and elevator scenes. For a laugh it also shows the television edit, which of course cuts most of the material out. It also goes over the details about the dialogue changes that were required to avoid an X. In all a rather fascinating 5-minute comparison.

The disc closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and the included insert includes an excellent essay by Michael Koresky (who writes the essays for a majority of Criterion’s Eclipse releases) on the film and De Palma’s techniques, while also addressing some of the criticisms thrown at De Palma and the film, from ripping off Hitchcock to charges of misogyny.

Sadly it’s missing Arrow’s exclusive features, which were all rather strong: they had their own interviews with Allen and Litto, but the true gem on that edition was a great interview with Angie Dickinson. But Criterion has still put together a terrific set of material, getting a few more participants (including the director himself) and expanding into other areas, like the film’s marketing.

9/10

CLOSING

It’s a frustrating edition because Criterion could have put together the ultimate edition for this film. Though the supplements deliver and are all wonderful to go through, Criterion dropped the ball on the transfer. I’m not sure what happened or how it went by unnoticed but after the 21-minute market (give or take some seconds) the image becomes squeezed in, completely distorting the picture. A huge disappointment.

Update (Aug 6, 2015): The second printing corrects the odd squishing effect found on the first release and is probably now the best edition for the film I've yet come across. The new 4K transfer presents a far crisper, more detailed image and the collection of special features are all rather good. It comes with a very high recommendation.


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