Dial M For Murder (1954)

by Paul on October 14, 2012

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★★★★★

 

Dial M For Murder (1954) is a suspense drama film, directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock. It is based on the play written by Frederick Knott and became the 16th highest grossing film of the year. It was filmed in the 3D format, but most theatersDial M For Murder showed it in the standard 2D since the novelty of 3D had begun to ware off by the time it was released. Now in 2012, 3D films have become popular once again and Dial M For Murder has been released through Warner Brothers on Blu-ray 3D, which also includes the standard 2D version on the same disc.

Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) is an unhappily married woman. Her husband, Tony (Ray Milland), has spent too much time and energy on his tennis career, and now Margot has wandered into the arms of a crime novel writer named Mark (Robert Cummings). What she doesn’t know is that her darling husband knows about her affair and has decided that in order to keep the luxurious lifestyle to which he has grown accustomed, he has to have her murdered and collect his Dial M For Murderinheritance.

For her murderer he has chosen an old classmate from college, Charles Swan (Anthony Dawson), whose past is filled with criminal activities. Tony has also decided to use Mark as his alibi the night of the murder. It’s all planned perfectly, if only everything would go according to plan.

Since Alfred Hitchcock made so many brilliant movies, it becomes hard to remember how wonderful each one is individually. In a since, Dial M For Murder has become one of Hitchcock’s most overlooked movies. It isn’t even considered his best movieDial M For Murder from 1954 because just two months after the release of Dial M For Murder, Hitchcock released Rear Window (1954). It also has the distinction of being the first collaboration with the marvelous Grace Kelly. They made three subsequent films together with Dial M For Murder, Rear Window and To Catch A Thief (1955), and I believe Hitchcock would have continued using Grace in every film he ever made if she was willing. (Just imagine Grace Kelly in The Birds (1963), Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) or even Psycho (1960)!) Their three movies Dial M For Murdertogether provide us with a glimpse of the power that a great director/actress relationship can have on films. Even when the divinely beautiful  Grace was matched up against some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men, Hitchcock found a way to make her characters beautiful, sympathetic, adventurous and charming all at the same time.

For all the much-deserved credit that Grace Kelly has received for this movie, Ray Milland seems to have been forgotten. In my opinion, Milland gives one of the most cold-blooded, frightening performances ever. He is completely organized and methodical in his plan, and doesn’t even seem very upset about murdering his wife. He has know about her affair for over a year and insteadDial M For Murder of confronting her, he has let his anger fester until he has died emotionally. All that remains is the fanatical killer who is more concerned about his lavish lifestyle than this woman with whom he still spends each day and night. He even wants to listen on the phone while she is being killed! It is a phenomenal performance, filled with moments that are supposedly surprising to him, but in reality he just sits there playing along with the police.

Over the years there have been hundreds of movies about husbands trying to kill their wives, but Dial M For Murder will always stand out for me because Hitchcock uses his natural abilities as a suspense expert to build each scene slowly. Nothing ever happens quickly in this film. Even the scenes that are set in the quiet living room with all Dial M For Murderthe characters talking about some unimportant subject like “cutting out clippings for a scrapbook”, Hitchcock fills their small apartment with enough suspense to consume a city. And then you can’t forget about the scenes that are supposed to have you on the edge of your seat. When Margot answers the phone and is waiting for someone to speak on the other end, Hitchcock has the camera slowly pan around to reveal Swan standing just inches away from her back. He has the scarf in his hands, ready for the moment she puts the phone down, but just for an extra bit of fun, Hitchcock has Grace start to put the phone down and then pull it back up to her ear one last time. It is in this terrifying moment that Swan gets as close as he possibly can without alerting her to his presence. It is one of the most suspenseful moments ever captured on film, and isDial M For Murder truly a miraculous piece of filmmaking.

It is a perfect suspense movie, filled with flawless performances and marvelous direction. Just because Alfred Hitchcock made ten films that are better than Dial M For Murder, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a wonderful movie; it’s just a credit to Hitchcock’s standing as one of the all time most prolific directors.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

R.A. Kerr October 14, 2012 at 1:29 PM

This is a perfect suspense movie. Your analysis of Milland’s character is spot-on. I have read a lot of reviews of this movie and I don’t think anyone else has put it so succinctly. Let’s put this on Twitter!

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Paul October 14, 2012 at 5:15 PM

I am glad you enjoyed this review. Being a huge Hitchcock fan, (as well as being in love with Grace Kelly) this movie is perfect to me. It is a great suspense thriller and is filled with wonderful characters.

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Brandie October 15, 2012 at 8:52 PM

Interesting post! I agree with your assessment of Milland–he is underrated here. I find the contrast between Milland and Robert Cummings in the film to be particularly interesting. Cummings is so bland, and Milland still maintains that kind of dashing aura even when he’s at his most dastardly. What WAS Margot thinking??

This is my second-favorite Hitch/Kelly collaboration (after the phenomenal Rear Window), and I, too, which we’d had more from her (other than To Catch a Thief, a film which I personally can’t stand despite the presence of my secret lover, Cary Grant). Hitchcock intended to reunite with Kelly in Marnie, but by then she had already been married to Prince Rainier for a while, and her subjects in Monaco were not thrilled with the idea of their princess portraying a kleptomaniac. So Hitch used Tippi Hedren, and we all know how THAT turned out. Sigh.

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Paul October 15, 2012 at 9:30 PM

I agree about Cummings completely. He and Milland are wonderful playing off of each other. Hitchcock always knew how to handle these scenes so well. As it turns out we have quite a lot in common here because Rear Window is my favorite of the Hitchcock/Kelly films, I believe To Catch A Thief is a movie missing some key elements, but I am not having a secret love affair with Cary Grant. I am having one with Grace Kelly! Thanks for stopping by and checking in.

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sandra August 14, 2013 at 7:54 PM

As far as I know, Dial M For Murder started life as a bbc tv drama; it was then made into a stage play, which was a huge success in London and on Broadway; then it was made into the Hitchcock film, and there have been at least two versions since: a tv version with Diane Cilento in the Grace Kelly role, and an uncredited remake as A Perfect Murder – and I have never understood why the story is so popular. All I can see is a mechanical piece about idiots who carry their latchkeys around loose instead of having them on keychains like normal people. It has one good scene – Margo successfully defending herself from her would-be assassin, but one scene doesn’t make a movie.

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Paul August 15, 2013 at 12:45 PM

You see, I feel that it’s the slow moving set-up that makes this film so great. It’s patient and precise thus keeping the audience on edge. Sure Hitchcock could have made a more direct film with plenty of scenes filled with drama, but by not doing that he created more suspense by our wondering if things would turn out in the end. Plus the slower pace makes it feel more like the stage play.

As far as the key situation, well I have no defense there. I don’t know if many people carry around loose keys. Perhaps I’ll give it a try to see how it turns out. Although I guess that would make it easier for my wife to plan my murder, wouldn’t it?

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