From the Basement: Dressed To Kill
"Dressed To Kill" proves itself to be better and better every time I watch it. The detective/private dick genre has been thriving (sometimes hobbling) ever since films like this breached the surface and those of today, no matter how uninteresting they may be, owe a lot to the ones that laid the foundation. What murder mystery films today lack is the personality that classics like this embodied. Yes they may be more calculated, edgy, and suspenseful, but they lack in character appeal and story strength-there isn't a lot there that makes you want to come back.
So yeah, it's the early forties, everyone's wearing hats, suits, looking sharp, and speaking in poignant, snappy phrases. Backs then, characters were written with more depth and individuality, they basically were "characters", not just people that blankly kept a plot moving. This sort of attention to detail gave movies warmth and charm, from the leading character, Michael Shayne played by Lloyd Nolan (who appears in "The House on 92nd Street", thank you, Darren), is a lively prefix to Joe Friday; to the faulty lead detective, and right down to each of the bumbling uniform cops. That said, this is also where movies from that era over do it a bit. Take any sort of non-white character in these films. Now, I don't want to get finger-pointy or get into some sort of political tangle, but they take anyone of an ethnic or geographical significance and jack up the ethnicity and cram it in. Doing this created an image for the masses to hold onto and placed numbers for people to paint by in their real lives. I don't mean to harp on this film or any others of this fine era, it's just in our hyper-actively PC lives, this sort of thing not only blips on our radars, it damn near whites them out, which should tell us about how we've changed and where we're at in that area. A Japanese butler with broken English, a pair of subservient, yet entertaining black janitors, and a tight-assed snooty English thespian, they're all there and though they're over the top and mildly offensive (minus the limey) they keep things moving.
Not a minute goes by without a kitschy quotable being uttered, every time enriching the experience. These lines keep this movie going in high gear for its entire seventy or so minutes; I could fill this article up with half of them and could easily make this the longest writing in indieworkshop's history, but I'll give you a few to give you bearing…
"You're looking fine, wonderful, if you looked any better, you'd have to be twins."
"Well is my face the nasty color of pink?" (said not a moment after a near-death experience).
"Here, here's one buck. I don't want George Washington to get lonesome."
"Whoever staged this little melodrama definitely had cracked chimes in their belfry"
…and so forth.
This film isn't so much suspenseful as it is entertaining. Not in the comical sense, action, or otherwise, it was filmed during the 40's and encapsulates nearly everything that was good (and bad) about that era (see semi-political tired above). I don't mean to sound kiddie or overtly young, but films like this make me think about my grandparents. The dialogue, the theatrics, the mannerisms, everything, even the lack of score, which is the most noticeable difference about movies then and now. It's almost shocking how much of an influence music has on a script, part of me likes a good score to guide along a scene, yet sometimes the music tries to sell too hard and cheapens the mood. The absence of score over most of this movie is one of its many strengths, keeps it strong. I love classic Hollywood.
- Phil Del Costello | 2005-10-25