Body Double (1984)


Brian De Palma’s return to his Hitchcockian routes after the brief detour of Scarface. Body Double contains the most well though through of his stories yet: a plot without holes, unlike some of his other works within the thriller genre. Although the characters are not as likable as in Blow Out, the plot unfolds at his most measured pace yet. And like Blow Out and Dressed to Kill, we are treated to some excellent wordless sequences of flawless direction as De Palma’s camera movements perfectly convey the mindsets of the characters he depicts.

This film also pays homage to Hitchcock in more obvious ways than some of his previous films. The most obvious are references to Rear Window and Vertigo. Our hero, Jake Scully (Craig Wassan), spies upon his neighbors with a telescope, treating himself to the private erotic dances of the woman who lives down the hill. Jake also suffers from acute claustrophobia, which De Palma depicts in photography not entirely dissimilar from that which Hitchcock used to portray Jimmy Stewart’s vertigo from the film of the same name. The burial sequence in particular, which must have utilized different sets at different times, was particularly effective at conveying Scully’s asphyxiation at the tight spaces he was placed into.

Scully’s voyeuristic habits quickly make him witness to a grizzly murder, but not all is as it seems. The plot unfolds at such a pace that we are always in tune with the current mindset of our protagonist, never one step ahead or behind him. The revelations occur to him at the same time as they occur to us. This is particularly spectacular in that most of these revelations are conveyed wordlessly. De Palma’s mastery of direction allows ideas to float into the audience’s mind whereas a lesser director would need the characters to explain these thoughts out loud. De Palma trusts his audience to decipher the clues he provides them and the film is so much better for it.

Again included in this film much like the other De Palma thrillers I’ve seen are wordless sequences of flawless direction. Much like Blow Out’s scene where Travolta pieces together photography into a film and Dressed to Kill’s scene where the lead does a sort of dance with a potential lover, Body Double includes a lengthy sequence where Scully follows around the target of his voyeurism. The audience is left to wonder whether it’s actually to keep her safe as he seems to tell himself, or if it’s really his infatuation and lust that leads him to stalk her around a mall. The truth is that it’s both, but De Palma’s direction conveys this feeling far better than any length of dialogue might have.

Brian De Palma is a true master of his craft. He is able to utilize the medium of moving pictures as well as any of his contemporaries and better than most. His stories work only as movies, and one must appreciate these kinds of films that work only within the medium, however indulgent or pulpy the material may be.


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