Brian De Palma is a director who divides critics between either great love or savage dismissal. De Palmas films are made with extraordinary flourishes of style split-screen, slow-motion camerawork and flashy show-off cinematographic tricks. At the same time, De Palmas films are also enormously derivative, especially of Hitchcock Obsession is a blatant remake of Vertigo (1958) and Dressed to Kill of Psycho (1960). Since Body Double, with the occasional exception of Raising Cain (1992), Femme Fatale (2002), The Black Dahlia (2006) and Passion (2012), De Palma has abandoned the psycho-thriller for mainstream gangster and action films like Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), Carlitos Way (1993) and Mission: Impossible (1996). At least in this authors regard, this is a career path that is less interesting and personal than De Palmas genre one.
Body Double was Brian De Palmas most flagrant stealing from Hitchcock. The film is a virtual remake of Vertigo with a good deal of Rear Window (1954) also thrown in for measure. It is not only Hitchcock that De Palma is rehashing it also seems like hes rehashing De Palma too. The film reads like a dot-to-dot of De Palma themes the Vertigo-like theme of double identity and role confusion (Sisters, Obsession, Femme Fatale), the film or dream-within-a-dream reality twister opening/ending (Sisters, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, Carrie), the long seductive pursuit of a woman by a male stranger (Dressed to Kill), the Psycho-like jolt of killing off of the lead female halfway through (Dressed to Kill). Brian De Palma has always been more interested in style and surface glitter than substance something that tends to work for or against his films depending on the plot and performances but here the precarious balance that he managed to keep in check in most previous films teeters over. Body Double is the worst of his genre films.
There are occasional moments of style particularly the Indians attack on Deborah Shelton seen through the binoculars, which comes as only a silent pantomime accompanied only by Craig Wassons off-screen comments. Pino Donaggio also contributes a wonderful score. There is also a reasonable cast, notably Melanie Griffith whose usual ditzy bubblehead blonde thing is well suited to the part. (Apparently, Brian De Palma had originally wanted to cast porn star Annette De Haven in the part but this was nixed by the studio).
However, the plot is so ludicrously contrived that the entire film falls apart upon a moments serious reflection. The killers plan is based on absurdly contrived schemes that are entirely dependant not only on Craig Wassons being home but also watching through the binoculars at certain times, his becoming obsessed with and following the woman, the two of them meeting by coincidence with neither in the know at a roadblock, as well as Wasson being courageous enough to admit to being a peeping tom and a stalker to the police. What would have happened to the entire scheme if Rovelle had been brought in as a witness in the police case and Jake happened to meet him in court? Other pieces dont make sense why does Deborah Shelton buy a pair of panties in a lingerie store and then throw them away outside the shop? The film is further capped by a De Palma-esque reality-twister ending, which only adds confusion. The film is filled with so many ridiculous coincidences and necessary improbabilities that the plot feels like a sieve.
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