In a career that lasted for six decades, Angie Dickinson has appeared in more than 50 films, including China Gate (1957), Ocean’s 11 (1960), Jessica (1962), The Killers (1964), The Art Of Love (1965), The Chase (1966), Point Blank (1967), Pretty Maids All In A Row (1971), The Outside Man (1972) and Big Bad Mama (1974).
Dickinson’s favorite film role was as the housewife who is brutally murdered after an adulterous encounter in Brian De Palma‘s masterpiece Dressed To Kill (1980). Dickenson: 2008 Vanity Fair interview:
“I’m good in it, and it’s a great part. I’m sorry I didn’t try to go for an Academy Award for that role. I think I could have won it. But the studio didn’t want to put up the campaign, and I felt that I didnt wan’t to go for a supporting-actor award, because I’d always thought of myself as the lead, even though by then I wasn’t getting starring roles. I regret it now. Of course, De Palma is to blame for the great performance.”
De Palma’s feverish, steamy, libidinous and extremely bloody thriller also stars Michael Caine, and Nancy Allen in a Golden Globe-nominated performance. It is a taut psycho-sexual chiller about madness and murder that’s as frightening as our pumpkin-skinned president’s underwear drawer.
A fashionable Manhattan therapist (Caine) faces the most terrifying moment of his life, when a psycho killer begins attacking the women (Dickinson and Allen) in his life with a straight razor stolen from his office. Desperate to find the murderer before anyone else is hurt, he is soon drawn into a dark and disturbing world of dirty desires. And he gets closer to discovering the terrible truth, he finds himself lost in a provocative maze of delusion, deviance and deceit where harmless erotic fantasies become deadly sexual nightmares!
Dressed To Kill is an homage to Alfred Hitchcock with witty visual quotes from Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960). De Palma lays it on thick with atmospheric obsessions of sex, dread, paranoia, and voyeurism, with a heavy dose of Psycho-style psychobabble about a transgender patient who can’t stop slashing attractive females who remind him that he’s still a man.
Dickinson plays the killer’s first target, relaying her sexual fantasies to Caine before living one of them after the film’s celebrated cat-and-mouse sequence in a Metropolitan Museum.
Dress To Kill was released the same year as Cruising, another erotic thriller film, this one written and directed by William Friedkin and starring Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, and Karen Allen. It was an era when the Gay Rights movement was making headway with the American public and many in the LGBTQ community saw both films as a giant step backwards. I think it is time for us to reevaluate these films and drop the stigma of being anti-gay, which they never were.
Dickenson is probably best known for playing Sergeant Pepper Martin on Police Woman (1974-78), receiving three Emmy Award nominations and four Golden Globe nominations, and winning in 1975. Police Woman was President Gerald Ford‘s favorite TV series (he once rescheduled a White House event because of it).
Burt Bacharach, Dickenson’s then-husband, turned down the opportunity to compose the theme for Police Woman because he didn’t think the show would last long.
Dickinson had a decade-long affair with Frank Sinatra:
“Frank and I stayed friends for all those years, and it was just one of those great, comfortable things, where you always desire somebody, but you can live without them.”
Her 1965 marriage to Bacharach was the second for each of them. Dickinson and Bacharach divorced in 1981. Dickenson said of Bacharach:
“He never loved me, I can tell you that right now, the way one loves. He loved in his own way, which is not too good. And so, he had no respect for me.”
Her first big break came when Howard Hawks cast her in Rio Bravo (1959) after seeing her in an episode of Perry Mason.
Dickinson returned a $75,000 advance from her memoir in 1989. She said the publisher wanted her to write about her much rumored affair with President John F. Kennedy. She said no and the project was shelved after completing 100 pages. I hope she changes her mind.
She was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. One time, Carson noted her outfit and asked Dickinson if she dressed for women or for men. She famously quipped:
“I dress for women. I undress for men.”