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Dial M for Murder

April 13, 2013

Dial M for Murder (1954)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings

Dial M for Murder

Synopsis: Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) blackmails his old university pal, Swann (Anthony Dawson), into murdering his wife, Margot (Grace Kelly). When the attempt goes awry, Wendice is forced to improvise to stay ahead of the police….

Review: This is Alfred Hitchcock at his most workmanlike, with his trademark directorial signature apparent only in the familiar subject matter (a ‘perfect murder’ plan gone wrong) and the one expressionistic scene where Grace Kelly’s Margot is sentenced to the death penalty. It’s a very stagebound work – unsurprising given the film was based on Frederick Knott’s play of the same name – and Hitchcock does his best at making a feature of the small one-bedroom flat where the plot unfolds. Almost every item in the room – from the two doors, to the curtains, the desk, the rug, the table with Margot’s handbag on it, the pictures on the wall, and the fireplace – become strong psychic elements to the story in their own right, and the film will be of great interest to people interested in the look of fifties moviemaking – from the décor and costume, to the lovely use of Technicolor.

Unfortunately, the manner in which the story is told has slightly dated. Particularly when compared against the fairly recent ‘remake’, A Perfect Murder, the playing out of the initial murder plot is rather far-fetched with Ray Milland’s cuckolded spouse being far too suspicious to reflect credibly on the conspiracy. That said, the film does make more sense when its second act moves to a more hole-proof ‘blackmail’ subplot, and even when (spoiler alert) Milland is finally outed, you’ve got to love his old-fashioned gentlemanly etiquette as he manages to find enough time to pour everyone a scotch. (April 2013)

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