In today’s House of Caine guest post Melbourne based writer Chris Smith takes a look at the Brian De Palma directed Dressed to Kill.
In some ways, the end of the seventies into the late eighties was for Michael Caine the decade of the paycheck. After twenty years of establishing himself as a versatile leading man in first class roles; ranging from the overtly serious, such as Zulu (1964), to the charming womanizer of Alfie (1966); Caine made a host of clearly commercially geared movies, from two Irwin Allen disaster movies (the b-grade extravaganza The Swarm (1978) and the belated cash-in sequel Beyond The Poseidon Adventure(1979)), through to the infamous Jaws: The Revenge (1987). The highlights of the decade though include an Oscar-Winning turn in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and as a psychiatrist and murder suspect in one of writer/director Brian De Palma’s best Hitchcockian thrillers: Dressed To Kill (1980).
From the first moments of Pino Donaggio’s beautifully and subtly evocative orchestral score that accompany the credits, and into the first controversial scene of Angie Dickinson touching herself in the shower, the tone is set for an exploitative and explicit psycho-sexual journey that’s handled with an impeccably intense seriousness and the utmost class by its film maker. Very much modeled on The Master’s Psycho (1960), the film follows rich-housewife Dickinson who sees psychiatrist Caine before embarking on an impromptu affair with a mysterious man she meets in a museum. They wind up back at the man’s apartment where, post-coital, the man falls asleep and Dickinson sneaks out. Then, in the films signature set piece in a mid-way Psycho twist; she is brutally murdered with a straight-razor in an elevator by a barely seen female assailant. When the killer leaves she is witnessed by an enterprising young prostitute (Nancy Allen) who becomes caught up in the case. The second half follows Allen and Dickinson’s son, Keith Gordon, as they investigate the murder, all the while hassled by De Palma regular Dennis Franz. The film ends with another insane Psycho styled twist that, as in that film, requires the following lengthy scene of explaining the killer’s motivation to make any kind of sense. And then, this having the artifice of an eighties slasher movie (De Palma’s Carrie (1976) debatably pioneered the unexpected final jump scene) there’s a ridiculously big-scale epilogue inside an insane asylum.
Just as some critics would often react negatively to some of Hitchcock’s more sequence driven films – think North by Northwest (1959) hurtling from one set piece to the next – in contextualizing De Palma’s thrillers Sisters (1973), Obsession (1976), Body Double (1984), Raising Cain (1992) and Femme Fatale (2002) also fit the mold which he fashioned over his career in-between big budget studio films like Scarface (1983) and Mission: Impossible (1996)), it’s important to remember that his work is essentially style driven and the narrative is ultimately little more than part of the artifice in the ultimate style that he’s driving towards. Subsequently, the at times ridiculous story seems little more than an excuse to execute his ambitious and beautifully staged set pieces. From the vivid sensuality of the aforementioned opening scene with Dickinson, the lengthy wordless sequence in the museum where she meets her lover, to the stunningly arranged slices of imagery that make up her inevitable death – all set to the rising crescendo of Donaggio’s hauntingly beautiful score – De Palma is not only a master of the individual set piece, but of keeping the rest of the film as engaging and consistent to them.
Perhaps not remembered for Caine’s presence (although anyone who watches it will never forget his role), Dressed To Kill is still one the veteran’s great films, and one of the most flamboyantly watchable, over the top Hitchcock tributes ever made.
Verdict: Pint Of Kilkenny
Chris Smith is a Melbourne based freelance writer who is passionate about film, books and music. His work is often featured on Film Blerg and various other places.
If you are after another review utterly panning Pixar’s Cars 2 (2011) then it is perhaps best to keep looking, because I really like the film. As a lifelong James Bond fan, I think this film is a really well judged Bond spoof, as well as just being a lot of fun to watch.
The action of the film is a good balance of car race sequences (which I actually found really exciting) and the spy narrative. Mater’s prominence in the latter sees that character feature much more prominently in this film than he did in the first. No doubt some people hate the character, but to be honest I actually find him, even if he is utterly idiotic, really quite hilarious. The narrative is a really fun globetrotting romp, which serves the purpose of setting up some lovely action set pieces and giving these at times absurd characters the chance to riff of Bond archetypes. There are a few too many coincidences in the third act of the plot but aside from that, the story is fun and serviceable. It is worth noting that just like pretty much all Pixar films, there is a definite note of darkness in Cars 2. A number of cars die in the film in pretty full on ways. Furthermore, it is not just the baddies that are killed in the film, at least one of the goodies is also killed. This is actually a refreshing approach from films that, despite their love from adult audiences, are geared toward kids.
Like any Pixar film, Cars 2 looks absolutely incredible, even if the company’s talents are being put toward a much more ‘kiddy’ aesthetic than in some of their other outings. The film is just so incredibly designed and it is the little things that make all of the difference – the logo in the bottom corner of the screen during the broadcast of the races for example. One thing that I was not so fond of is some of the cultural clichés that the film trades in. The Japan-set portion of the film in particular made me cringe a bunch of times. As for Michael Caine’s work, I love the character that he voices in the film. He plays the expertly named superspy Finn McMissile and the look of his character, a silver Bentley with a pencil thin ‘moustache’ is fantastic. It is amazing how great Caine and this design work as a Bondesque master agent. Makes you wonder how Caine would have done in the iconic role himself.
Cars 2 is not one of Pixar’s best films, but that’s ok because they have an almost uniformly incredible output. I just find this film to be totally satisfying. It is a really clever flick and manages to satisfy both my inner James Bond fan and my inner Pixar fan.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Don’t forget there is a competition all this week on the blog and all the details are here.
The titular role in Get Carter (1971) is one of Michael Caine’s most iconic turns. When I watched the film for the first time recently, I did not exactly get what I was expecting.
For starters, the film is exceedingly dark in a way that most films of that vintage were not. It is essentially Caine’s gangster on a 110 minute reign of vengeance with no real thoughts of morality or notions of justice. The opening act of the film is relatively light on the plot details, the nature of Carter’s mission kept deliberately vague. It is a technique that is at times intriguing, at others frustrating. This is a strictly local gangster level tale, despite the labyrinthine plot at times recalling a globetrotting espionage film. Throughout the film, Carter is forced (or chooses) to shoot his way violently through a web of confusing familial relations and porno films, until he feels justice has been served. Or I guess until everyone is dead, whichever happens to come first. You get the sense that Caine’s cold-hearted Jack Carter does not particularly give a shit which of these eventualities comes to pass.
As for our guest of honour on the blog this week, put simply, young Michael Caine is such a dude. As an actor he is very adept at creating a real sense of character in his roles, easily slipping into a role and becoming someone completely different. All the things you hanker for in a 70s gangster flick are here – snappy dialogue and a very funky soundtrack, as well as plenty of sex and violence (those last two are dished out a little more gratuitously than was probably the norm back in the day). However whilst the film is definitely well made and on the whole I would say I enjoyed it, there is just something missing for me that keeps it being utterly essential viewing. Perhaps it is the fact that the film and the character of Carter take themselves so seriously. Who knows, perhaps it was because it was a pretty downcast flick and it was not something that I was in the mood for the night I watched it. All that said though, Caine is at his magnetic best here, so if you are a fan of the great man’s work, that fact makes it worth checking out.
The book “1001 Films to See Before you Die” in which this film features, describes it as “blunt and forceful” and I don’t know that I can put it any better than that. It lacks a bit in narrative and what is there is frankly a little confusing and unsatisfying. But Caine is well worth seeing in this as he gives a really good performance in what is a pretty downbeat flick.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Don’t forget there is a competition all this week on the blog and all the details are here.
The awesome guest posting for The House of Caine continues with the man of mystery behind Isaacs Picture Conclusions, possibly called Isaac, possibly Eric, more likely it’s Chris Isaak, giving you the lowdown on Blood and Wine. Whatever you do, check out his site… after reading this review.
I remember watching Blood and Wine (1996) when it came out on cable – I had just graduated from college and was still living in my mum’s house getting ready to move in to a rental with my buddies. I had just gone through about ten years of not really watching movies – I spent most of that decade chasing chicks around – and the only reason I really watched this was because Jennifer Lopez was “new” and I hoped she was going to strip naked and slink around all over the place (it doesn’t happen, boys). I knew who Jack Nicholson was, sure, but this really had no other draw for me other than J Lo.
Looking at this the other week, for this project, as this started and that zen-ish 90s synthesizer fired up as Stephen Dorff paddled out into the ocean on a surfboard I thought, “oh man, what have I got myself into?” Then he and Harold Perrineau haul a freaking shark out of the ocean and I was prepared for something terrible. In the next scene Judy Davis (remember her) rolls off a couch in a hungover stupor and Dorff sasses his step-dad (Nicholson) and things still weren’t looking very good.
Shortly after that we are introduced to J Lo’s Mexican-Nanny-To-Rich-Assholes and her “Choo think I look like a nanny?” accent blah, blah, blah. And – in all honesty I have never been that interested in Michael Caine (I have no idea why) but about 15 minutes in we meet his character and things really changed for this movie. Shame on me, I suppose, but I really only know him as Alfred in The Dark Knight trilogy but he is EXCELLENT in this, doing his character act bit, as a chain smoking, coughing up blood safe cracker who’s not afraid to beat the crap out of anyone if he’s not getting his way.
I’m no professional but in my opinion when we talk about Film Noir, from what I’ve seen, they usually revolve around a hopeless sap who’s being manipulated by a woman into doing something nefarious and things get worse and worse and worse up until the end. This is similar to that style (even billed as Noir on the Netflix envelope) as things continue to get more hopeless, but there’s not really that particular feel of darkness to this. Caine and Nicholson character act all over the place, J Lo “Choos” her way around the joint and Stephen Dorff acts like a dude from the 90s (if that makes sense) as we watch an expensive diamond necklace robbery fencing go wrong.
This movie is very good, but it’s also kind of dated with it’s fashion and music and Jack Nicholson and his infamous Ray Bans (and Caine sports one of those veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery thin moustaches) but if you look past that type of thing, this is a pretty, pretty good little thriller.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Thanks so much to Mr Pictures Conclusions for taking part. Please head on over to Isaacs Picture Conclusions and get involved with some of the fantastic stuff he has going on over there.
First of all, apologies for the terrible pun. But if you have followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen a few of them. This whole week on the blog will be dedicated to one of the most iconic and just all-round awesome actors alive today, the great Michael Caine.
The whole spectrum is going to be covered here – his earlier starring efforts, later supporting work and even a little of his voice work in animation. Also I will be live tweeting Dark Knight Rises on Tuesday arvo/evening my time, so keep an eye out for that. Luckily for you guys too, I also have three really awesome guest bloggers who will be bringing their thoughts about a few of Caine’s cinematic outings.
If you would ever like to have a guest blog on the site, I would love to have you. Fire me an email to email@example.com if you are keen. I run these theme weeks every month or two and it is great to get as many different voices as possible.
This week there is also a competition running to coincide with House of Caine. Up for grabs is a brand spanking new copy of Len Deighton’s novel The Ipcress File which would be adapted to the screen in 1965 starring Caine himself. You know the drill on how to enter, but just in case, the details are (double entries for the post on The Ipcress File):
- Like’ the post on Facebook for one entry.
- Comment on the post on Facebook for two entries.
- Share the post on Facebook for two entries.
- Retweet the post on Twitter for two entries.
- Like the post on this site for one entry.
- Comment on the post on this site for two entries.
To get things started, share your favourite Caine films or performances in the comments section below.