Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on May 29, 1954
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Frederick Knott, adapted from his play
Cast: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson, Patrick Allen, George Leigh, Robin Hughes, George Alderson, Guy Doleman, Martin Milner, and Alfred Hitchcock as ‘Man in Class Reunion Photo’
Of the fifty-three films that Alfred Hitchcock directed during his career, there are a few—such as Young and Innocent and Foreign Correspondent—that in my eyes seem to have escaped appreciation; well-made and entertaining, but existing under the radar of what usually are considered the director’s best. And to me, Dial M for Murder is one of those films. Not as revered or acclaimed as many of Hitchcock’s other works, but the sort of film that perfectly fit the Hitchcock mold; a devious little murder mystery that featured an intricate story, solid acting from an A-list cast, understated humor, a gorgeous blonde, and plenty of the director’s trademark suspense.
Ray Milland plays a former tennis pro, married to wealthy socialite Grace Kelly, who plots the murder of his cheating wife (Grace Kelly the two-timing wife! And we’re rooting for her!) and blackmails a shady college acquaintance into committing the murder. Naturally, a few bumps—and a very sharp pair of scissors—derail his carefully-devised plan, and before long John Williams arrives on the scene as the chief inspector who thinks something fishy is going on. A battle of wits ensues as Williams attempts to uncover the truth, and Milland does his best to steer suspicion elsewhere. Robert Cummings is on hand, as a mystery writer, to offer insight into solving the crime.
As far as direction went, Hitchcock kept things simple, but he did so effectively. He followed the lead of the stage play and confined the interactions of the screen story to the interior of a London flat, and had his actors constantly in motion throughout the two-room set, allowing their skills (and the dialogue of screenwriter Frederick Knott) to do the lion’s share of the work for him. This was then enhanced by his understated camerawork: high and low angles, long takes as the camera pushed in or moved left or right, and the occasional ‘at-the-screen’ moment that was expected from a 3-D presentation, a gimmick the studio had imposed on him at the end of its popularity.
Milland, Kelly, and Williams were all great, adding a layer of elegance and sophistication to their characters, and though Cummings was a bit lightweight as Kelly’s boyfriend, I thought all four played quite well off each other (especially Williams, who was just outstanding). Watching Milland’s seemingly-foolproof plan take shape, then following Williams as he smartly and efficiently unraveled it, kept a persistent hold on your attention, but it was the iconic murder sequence, wedged between these two halves, that supplied the film with its one big edge-of-your-seat punch.
Hitchcock stated that he could’ve phoned this one in, and that he was simply recharging his batteries before moving on to his next production, Rear Window, released later that same year. Well, I think he and the film deserve more credit than that; when the cinematic achievements of Hitchcock are discussed, Dial M for Murder is usually not mentioned, but for my money it definitely should be. This was an entertaining and fun ride from start to finish, and a must-see for Hitchcock fans, or anyone who loves well-executed suspense thrillers. (9/10)