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Alfred Hitchcock committed many fictional murders onscreen, but I suspect he knew that few of them would plausibly work in real life.
In fact, "Dial M for Murder" is all about how murders can never be pulled off perfectly -- especially the complex, think-on-your-feet types that are usually seen in murder mysteries. In this adaptation of the stage play, Hitchcock keeps a low-simmering tension throughout the story, even as he juggles several clues and misdirections that end up tangling all the wrong people. It's not a question of whodunnit, but whether the truth will be found.
Wealthy socialite Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) has been carrying on a secret affair with crime-fiction writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). But when a love letter from Mark (the MacGuffin!) is stolen from her handbag, she reveals to Mark that she's currently being blackmailed by an unknown person. Her husband Tony (Ray Milland), seemingly oblivious to both the blackmail and the love affair, invites Mark to a stag party.
The twist: Tony knows all about the affair, and he is the one who stole the letter. He's also afraid that if Margot leaves him, he'll be left destitute since she has all the money.
So he enlists an old schoolmate named Swann (Anthony Dawson) to murder his wife, and stages the "perfect" crime and alibi. But things go wrong when Margot manages to stab Swann with a pair of scissors, and the carefully-arranged crime becomes a tangled web of clues and secrets that all seem to incriminate Margot. Will the truth be found before she is hung, or will Tony get away with murder?
While "Dial M For Murder" is based on a stage play by Frederick Knott (who also adapted it for the movie), it's one of those stories that just feels very Hitchcockian. There's a "wrong woman," a MacGuffin, murder schemes, a beautiful blonde, a high-society setting and a charmingly genteel psychopath who calmly plans the murder of his wife just because he wants her money -- it seems perfectly designed for Hitchcock's storytelling style.
The first half of the movie is devoted to the "perfect crime" going wrong. While Tony insists that he's planned out the perfect murder, little unexpected things cause his scheme to go awry -- a stopped watch, an old man, a pair of scissors, and a missing key. The second half... well, it's about untangling the same web from Margot, and somehow figuring out how it all applied to Tony. There are some leaps in logic, but for the most part it juggles the clues well.
And Hitchcock brings a low-simmering sense of suspense to the story, with events unfolding prety slowly... until Swann tries to strangle Margot, when everything becomes raw and visceral. Despite the languid pacing, he actually keeps the movie pretty lean and nimble. For instance, Margot's entire legal battle is summed up in a nightmarish montage of questions and condemnations, and it lasts less than a minute before she's condemned to death.
This is probably the best performance I've yet seen from Grace Kelly -- she gasps and sobs incoherently through the attempted murder, slowly crumbles through the investigation, and floats numbly through the final act. Milland gives a chillingly genial performance, although Cummings is just kind of... well, he's enthusiastic, but the character is an idiot. And of course, there's John Williams as the veddy veddy British Inspector Hubbard, who is much more devious than anyone gives him credit for.
"Dial M For Murder" can be a bit slow at times, but the slow-burning tension and intricate plot were beautifully handled by Hitchcock -- and the clever subversion of the "perfect crime" makes a nice brain-bender.
on January 28, 2004
Dial M for Murder is not one of the all time greats of the Master, but it still has its merits. Based on a play by Friedrich Knott, it features the suave Ray Milland playing Tony Wendice, former tennis star. He's married to Margot (Grace Kelly) who is actually having an affair with Mark (Robert Cummings). Tony hatches a plan to blackmail a former school chum to come to their house and kill Margot when Tony is away. The main part of the plan involves Tony calling Margot to get her to stand by the phone and give the killer his chance. The plan, needless to say, does not go off as planned and some further decisions need to be made.
It's obvious that this was originally a stage play, as the majority of the picture takes place in the Wendice's apartment. It also was released in 3-D when it came out in 1954, something that really didn't help its popularity. The play was perfect for Hitchcock, who showed over and over his ability to do masterful work even when contained in one space for a long period of time (see Lifeboat, and Rear Window, which came out the same year as Dial M). The performances are superb. Milland as the overconfident Brit, Cummings as the uptight American, and Kelly as the clueless beauty who just can't believe her husband could be so cruel. I also loved John Williams as the inspector from Scotland Yard. He also thinks highly of himself and it's great watching him go up against Milland. Watch also for Hitch's cameo in a picture and the neat close ups of the scissors and the telephone number dial. Hitchcock always had the camera telling the story and this film is no exception. Excellent all the way around.
on November 10, 2003
Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 Dial M For Murder, ended up as an "also ran" to the more popular Rear Window, released that same year. Another problem was that it was decided to add some 3-D elements to it, as a way to entice folks into the theater. 3-D was all the rage back then, but in the end, this only proved to be a distraction, rather than an enhancement. I think Dial M is a better film than most people think it is, especially when looked at outside of the Rear Window and 3-D factors.
Tony Windice (Ray Milland) hatches a plan to have his lovely wife Margot (The ever lovely Grace Kelly) murdered. It seems that she has been having an affair with a writer friend of theirs, named Mark (Robert Cummings) Tony's plan involves a casual school mate of his (Anthony Dawson) carrying out the deadly deed, while Tony has a solid alibi. When the plan is complicated by an unepected turn, Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) is sure there's more going on here then meets the eye.
Based on Frederick Knott's play, Hitchcock keeps that "stage" mood going by not stretching too far beyond the main set. At first, this may seem very limiting but I think it only hieghtens the tension. Hitchcock is quite good at staging scenes in a confined space, as the aforementioned Rear Window and a few of his other films like Rope and The Trouble With Harry, demonstrate. Milland is devishly suave as Tony. Kelly is great as always, but really shines as a woman conflicted. The film has a problem with its pace at times, getting booged down with a dialogue heavy scene, now and then, but it's not as bad as some have suggested. People often compare the film to its updated and greatly expanded remake, A Perfect Murder, that's like comparing apples and oranges. It's not neccessary in my opinion. Both can stand alone and have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Dial M For Murder, is one of the only Hitchcock films left, not to get a DVD release. Ok, so it's not his best work, but as we approach a landmark anniversary for the film, this situation deserves to be rectified soon. It's gotten a bum rap for too long now.
on July 22, 2003
Ray Milland pulls off another flawless performance as the jealous husband determined to have his cheating young wife Grace Kelly murdered. The aging former tennis star who lives mainly off his wife's wealth. When he learns of her infidelity with an American acquintance, Milland's adoration for the beautiful Kelly becomes nothing more than a strained pretence, all-the-while planning how he can get rid of her, then live happily ever after off her money.
A man Milland barely rememebered from college has a few dark secrets, which Milland uses to blackmail him into the meticulously planned "perfect crime" of murdering Kelly. A clever (although typical) "Hitchcock-Twist" makes for a thrilling change to an unexpected "Plan B".
Not as well known as similar Hitchcock films, this one is no less of a gem. Although the story and handling, particularly the dull-British "Scotland Yard" dialog are definitely from another era, the unfolding plot is sheer Hollywood candy. The final scene is priceless. A sure hit for those who love "whodunits" as well as for fans of the Master. A 5-star-classic!*****
on July 21, 2002
This is a fine example of the kind of mystery that little old ladies from Pasadena (or Russell Square) adore. Perhaps Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) starring Cary Grant might be comparable in its genteel and bloodless ability to glue us to the screen.
This is certainly one of Hitchcock's best, but most of the credit must go to a devilishly clever play written by Frederick Knott from which he adapted the screenplay. (He also wrote the play upon which Wait Until Dark (1967) starring Audrey Hepburn was based.) Hitchcock does a good job in not tinkering unnecessarily with the material. He also has the exquisitely beautiful Grace Kelly to play the part of Margot Wendice.
Ray Milland plays, with a kind of high-toned Brit panache, her diabolical husband, Tony Wendice, a one-time tennis star who married mostly for security. John Williams is the prim and proper Chief Inspector Hubbard. He lends to the part a bit of Sherlock Holmesian flair. One especially liked his taking a moment to comb his mustache after the case is solved. Robert Cummings, unfortunately plays Margot's American boyfriend as inventively as a sawhorse. For those of you who might have blinked, Hitchcock makes his traditional appearance in the photo on the wall from Tony Wendice's undergraduate days.
The fulcrum of the plot is the latchkey. It is the clue that (literally) unlocks the mystery. There is a modernized redoing of this movie called A Perfect Murder (1998) starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in which a similar business with latchkeys is employed. I am not very good with clues so it was only after seeing that movie and Dial M for Murder for the second time that I finally understood what happened. Follow the latchkey!
Of course I was too distracted by Grace Kelly to fully appreciate such intricacies. I found myself struck with the ironic notion that anyone, even a cuckolded husband, might want to kill Grace Kelly or that a jury might find her guilty of anything! She remains in my psyche America's fairytale princess who quit Hollywood at the height of her popularity after only five years and eleven movies to become a real princess by marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco. Something was lost there, and something was gained. She was in essence the original Jackie Kennedy Onassis. I think, however, that the old saw about the man who marries for money, earning it, might apply to American princesses as well.
At any rate, Grace Kelly's cool and sublime bearing was on fine display here. Hitchcock cloths her in discreet nightgowns and fitted (but certainly not clinging) dresses that show off her delicate figure and her exquisite arms and hint coyly at her subtle sexuality. She was 25-years-old, stunningly beautiful, and in full confidence of her ability as an actress. She had just finished starring opposite James Stewart in another splendid Hitchcock one-room mystery, Rear Window (1954), and was about to make The Country Girl (1954) with Bing Crosby for which she would win an Oscar for Best Actress.
So see this for Grace Kelly who makes Gwyneth Paltrow (whom I adore) look downright gawky, and for Ray Milland whose urbane scheming seems a layer or two of hell removed from Michael Douglas's evil manipulations.
By the way, the "original theatrical trailer" preceding these Warner Brothers Classic videos is what we used to call the "Coming Attractions"--that is, clips directly from the movie and a promo. You might want to fast forward to the movie itself.
on May 1, 2002
'Dial M for Murder' has many of the touches that one associates with Hitchcock, mainly, his masterly use of building up suspense and the way he makes you side with the villain, despite yourself. The acting is excellent. Ray Milland is convincing as the charming but devious husband who attempts to murder his wife, Grace Kelly, who makes a compelling and sympathetic victim. Only Robert Cummings grates as the insufferable 'hero', although this may have had to do more with the part than the actor himself.
The flaws of the films are a slight stiffness. There are two reasons for this. 'Dial M for Murder' was originally a play and most of the action takes place in one room. Necessary on a static stage, but limiting and unnatural in a film. It was also shot in 3D at the insistence, and against Hitchcock's objections, of the studios. Since the cameras necessary for 3D were bulky and difficult to manoeuvre, there is a lack of fluidity that adds to the feeling that you are watching a play rather than a film, even if it is an excellent play. However, Hitchcock still manages to produce good cinema. His slow build-up to the attempted murder scene and its thrilling climax is to see the master at his best.
A wonderful film that never bores and often startles. Not quite "up there" with Hitchcock's best, but an excellent film nevertheless.
on March 22, 2002
"Dial M For Murder" may not be Hitchcock's best movie, but it is the director at his best: telling a simple story, with some fine twists, a peculiar sense o humor and a catching plot. But as it is based on a stage play, it suffers from the same problem most films of this type do: it has few chatacters, not so many sets that makes it claustrophoic. Most of the actions takes place in one apartment, or better saying, in the living room of this place, what gives us the feeling of being locked there.
An ex-tennis player who is now having some money problems hire an ex-school mate to kill his wealthy and not faithfull wife so he can receive her heritage. The complex plan is detailed set, but he doesn't count on one suprise: she is not killed, instead she can kill the assassin. To make things worse she accused of murdering. From this moment on the film becomes a mouse and cat game trying to prove her innocent.
The cast is small but perfect. Grace Kelly plays the ingenous wife with so much beauty and dignity that it is impossible not to fall for her. On the other hand, it is impossible no to repulse her husband, perfectly played by Ray Milland. He is so false and disgusting that everybody roots for him get discovered. The script is perfect: everything makes sense and everything is in its right place.
Hitchcock's direction is irrepressible. Even though it is based on play and suffer from some problems, as I aforementioned. The plot is so interesting and catching, that these 'problems' get invisible through the movie. Moreover, hsi peculiar sense of humor makes the film lighter and better to watch. The murdering scene is amazing, and I suggest you not to even blink, in order not to lose any moment of this sequence. The after-murdering develops in a incredible speed, Grace's trial is one of the most inventive of the cinema. Pay attention to her expressions and body movement during this specific scene.
This film has been remade a couple of times. I suggest you to check "A Perfect Murder" featuring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow. Both movies have the same premisse, but are led to different consequences. And the two films are good in their own way.
on February 12, 2002
Although Hitchcock's version of the popular play was considered a shocker in its day, repetition of the story in so many versions has made the story itself seem rather tame: a husband, angered by his wife's affair and in desperate need of money, blackmails an acquaintance to murder her--but his plans go awry when his wife kills her attacker in self-defense.
Both Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings, as the faithless wife and her mild-mannered lover, give enjoyable performances, but the real success of the film is Ray Milland, who brings a slightly oily charm to his role of murderous husband. Hitchcock's approach to the material is somewhat hampered by the fact that the film was originally shot in 3-D, and although the scene in which star Grace Kelly confronts her attacker is justly famous, the film is essentially a meticulous recreation of the stage success rather than a Hitchcock original.
Although familiarity with the material robs if of impact, most viewers will find Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER entertaining in an old-fashioned sort of way. For myself, I wish the film could be released to videotape or DVD in the original 3-D format, so we might see how effectively Hitchcock handled the requirements of the form. It might very well breathe new life into an old favorite.
on December 6, 2001
Like Rear Window, which was shot at about the same time, this is practically a one-set film, but Dial M for Murder never feels claustrophobic. The film moves along at a brisk pace to its climax -- an elegant film with no wasted motion. Much of the credit has to go to the screenplay, which was by the author who wrote the play "Dial M for Murder." And what a superb play it is!
The acting is uniformly top-notch, but Ray Milland steals the show with his low-key performance as the murderous husband. Milland's subtle, shifting expressions let you see his alternating smugness and fear.
Hitchcock's direction is a little peculiar in places. Partly this is because the film was shot in 3-D. I've only seen it in 2-D, but Hitchcock sometimes placed something in the foreground and had the action take place in the background to enhance the depth of the cinemaphotography. I'm sure the 3-D audiences oohed and ahhed at this effect, but in 2-D it introduces a somewhat distancing effect. Also, there was one part of the film with a couple of quick edits as if covering a mistake in the filming. Still, Hitchcock's talent shines through as he keeps you engrossed in the action. It's great fun -- don't miss it.
on July 10, 2001
Halfway between Rope and Rear Window, Dial M For Murder is a masterpiece of dialogue-driven thrills, filled with snappy lines, memorable characters and magnificent twists and intrigues. Blackmail, bribery, burglary, adultery, murder, manipulation and set-ups all slot together into one seamless, flowing crescendo of a roller coaster ride that takes you up and down and in and out of alternating suspense and excitement. Originally written as a play, the writing is so intelligent that this film surpasses the narrow constraints of its genre, avoiding any level of predictability – every time you think you know what’s going to happen, something comes dashing at you from a completely different angle and knocks you into another direction, until you just hold on and see where you end up. The acting, though not outstanding, serves its purpose admirably, and you feel for the characters and do actually care whether they live or die, which is always a bonus in a story revolving around murder. A number of long takes keep the film moving swiftly onwards, and despite its for the most part one-room setting, making it obviously lacking in spectacle, it never becomes stale.
Dial M for Murder is seen as one of Hitchcock’s weaker films because of its complete lack of pretension – I guess it’s just what constitutes your taste in films. A lot of people dislike this film because it is plot-driven and not, dare I say it, arty and high-brow, but don’t think that means it is devoid of creativity. Though it is set almost entirely within one flat, Hitchcock far exceeds the limitations placed upon such a setting. The tension created by the camera circling Grace Kelly when she is on the phone is intense, the frequently astounding camera shots that swoop in from the other side of the room to extreme close-ups of, for example, keys, are ingenious instruments of plot-progression, and the top-down soon-to-die shot as the murder is planned is definitely worthy of note. If you want the camera to tell the story, then this isn’t the film for you, but if you’re okay with the idea of a film that contains – God forbid – dialogue, and intelligent, stirring, rip-roaring, rousing dialogue at that, then Dial M For Murder is the perfect movie.
I would recommend this film to virtually everyone. If you like the theatre or reading books or listening to radio plays, you’ll like this. If you like plot-based movies, you’ll love this one – it could teach today’s films a thing or two about substance. If you like dialogue-based films like anything by Quentin Tarantino, Polanski’s Chinatown or The Usual Suspects, you’ll like Dial M For Murder. If you’ve ever watched more than one episode of Colombo, you will love it. If you like Grace Kelly, you’ll like this. But (and it’s a big but) if you prefer action and explosions to plot, Jean-Luc Goddard to Robert Zemeckis, avant-garde to Hollywood or the second half of Titanic to the first, then you’d probably be best giving this film a miss.