‘Dial M For Murder’ (Film)

‘DIAL M FOR MURDER’

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I’ve seen ‘Dial M For Murder’ both as a movie and as a stage play!

Alfred Hitchcock is well-known for directing such suspenseful movies like ‘Vertigo’, two versions of ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ and ‘North By Northwest’. But he’s also directed quite unique stories that are literally theatre plays made as movies. One of these is of course ‘Dial M For Murder’!

I like ‘Dial M For Murder’. It’s not like an absolute favourite of mine, but it’s definitely one of the best movies Alfred Hitchcock’s ever made. It’s pretty unique in that most of it is set inside a London flat which is how it would’ve been done as a stage production originally written by Frederick Knott. 🙂

The play ‘Dial M For Murder’ was first shown on BBC TV in 1952 before it was released to stage theatres in London and New York. It became a sterling success, so of course a movie was made out of by Hitchcock in 1954. It’s incredible how Alfred Hitchcock didn’t change much adapting it as a film.

There are occasions where we’re allowed to breathe for a bit by going outside and cutting to scenes not set inside the London flat such as a hotel and inside a taxi. But mostly the story’s in the London flat where a murder is being investigated as well as possible murder of a man’s wife planned by him.

This isn’t the only time that Alfred Hitchcock’s directed a movie mostly set inside in one location. He also directed movies like ‘Rope’ and ‘Rear Window’ that were also set in one place. I quite enjoyed the self-contained environment found in ‘Dial M For Murder’, especially as the story unravels to you.

After seeing this film, my parents and I saw a local amateur production of ‘Dial M For Murder’ in Cardiff. It was interesting to see how theatrical it was with the play limited to just one set comparing to how it was done in the movie. The suspense and thrills were still there in theatre as much as film.

The story of ‘Dial M For Murder’ is about a love triangle between a husband and wife living in London along with an American novelist who comes to visit. The husband knows his wife is having an affair with the American novelist behind his back as he plots to have her murdered by another party.

But the attempted murder goes wrong when the wife defends herself, killing her strangler with a pair of scissors. The husband uses this to his advantage when the police come to investigate and the wife is accused for killing her strangler. But the police investigator may not be fooled as you’d think.

What I found when watching this movie is how there was a lot of talking and exposition in certain scenes. Again, this is a theatre play as a film. Ordinarily, it’d be a hard chore to take in so much information when you want to see some action happening. But the suspense is still maintained here.

The action does kick in when the wife is about to be murdered after picking up the phone to answer a call late at night. This is where the title of the movie comes in – ‘Dial M For Murder’. There’s also a clever plot device of using keys to open an apartment door. It helps to reveal the husband’s colours.

The film is very well-cast. There’s Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, Anthony Dawson and John Williams. There are supporting characters with very few lines in the film, but most of the story focuses on five major characters as it would’ve been the case if you are watching this as a stage play.

Grace Kelly stands out for me as the wife Margot Mary Wendice. This was her first film with Alfred Hitchcock apparently, as she would go on to star in ‘Rear Window’ and ‘To Catch a Thief’. She was considered the ultimate Hitchcock blonde beauty in movies and she’s certainly that as I watched her.

It’s interesting how Margot Wendice is revealed to be having an affair with another man from America before she gets attacked by her stranger late at night. Early on in the film, she’s glamorous and beautiful. By the end of the film, she is dishevelled and not wearing make-up, but still beautiful.

Ray Milland stars as Tony Wendice, the husband of Margot May and essentially the movie’s villain. Now here’s an interesting thing about Tony Wendice’s character. He comes across as a likeable villain. Ray Milland delivers a charming performance when he plays a man attempting to kill his wife.

Tony Wendice blackmails an old acquaintance of his to kill his wife late at night after the sound of a phone call. It does seem like Tony has meticulously planned this murder out when detailing it to his appointed murderer. But even Tony can make mistakes. He’s quite charming when he’s found out. 🙂

Robert Cummings stars as Mark Halliday, the American crime author who’s in love with Grace Kelly’s character. It’s been pointed out that Mark Halliday’s an unlikeable character at first. I wouldn’t go too far in that direction as he is a typical male person who thinks himself as great than many others.

Mark Halliday’s quite concerned when Margot May Wendice is about to be sentenced and executed for killing her attacker. He deduces that Tony might’ve killed the murderer as he would do when writing his crime novels. He’s surprised once he sees the police bring Margot home out of custody. 🙂

Anthony Dawson stars as the wife’s attacker, who first goes by the name of Captain Lesgate before he’s also revealed to be Charles Alexander Swann. Swann and Tony Wendice seem to go back a bit and have a friendly reunion at the London flat. This is before Tony blackmails Swann to do a murder.

It’s interesting how Swann is blackmailed to murder since Tony knows he once murdered a girlfriend of his. Swann is clearly torn from committing the crime on behalf of Tony in order to prevent being exposed for another crime he did. It doesn’t go well for him when Margot defends herself that night.

John Williams (the actor, not the music composer) stars as Chief Inspector Hubbard, who questions what happened on the night the attempted murder happened. John Williams has been in a number of Hitchcock productions – episodes of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ and the film ‘To Catch a Thief’. 😀

It’s interesting how Hubbard solves the case by questioning Margot’s claims on what she saw that night that eventually lead her to be accused for murder herself. But then it gets interesting when Hubbard does not believe Margot committed a crime and uncovers how Tony committed the crime.

As Alfred Hitchcock movies go, they’re well-remembered for his cameos. I wondered when Hitchcock’s cameo was going to come up as I watched the film. I was pleasantly surprised when he appeared in a group photo at a dinner with Ray Milland and Anthony Dawson’s characters. So clever!

An interesting thing to point out is that when ‘Dial M For Murder’ was shown at cinemas, it had been presented in 3-D. I wouldn’t think ‘Dial M For Murder’ would be a proper movie to be shown in 3-D then. But I suppose that was in the experimental stages of 3-D at cinema. Interesting to find out this!

The DVD special features are as follows. There’s the ‘Hitchcock and Dial M’ making-of documentary; the ‘3-D: A Brief History’ documentary and a theatrical trailer for the movie.

‘Dial M For Murder’ is definitely one of the best Hitchcock movies ever made. It’s not a highly-talked-about Hitchcock movie compared to others he directed like ‘Vertigo’ and such. But it’s a fine piece of film based on a stage play. It’s got lots of plot exposition going on, but the drama and acting is good.

I’m pleased I’ve seen two versions of ‘Dial M For Murder’, both in Hitchcock’s film and in a stage production in Cardiff. Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, Anthony Dawson and John Williams are excellent through. I found Grace Kelly a glamorous blonde lady of the 1950s in this film.

‘Dial M For Murder’ rating – 9/10


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