johnlink ranks DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)

Hitchcock’s first of three collaborations with the unparalleled Grace Kelly, DIAL M FOR MURDER is one of his smaller films. Initially shot in 3D, though rarely released as such, this is a color film which is based on a play and takes place almost entirely in one apartment.

I watched DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) on 9.21.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

In DIAL M FOR MURDER, Grace Kelly is not in the rare form she attains for TO CATCH A THIEF. This film does not ask her to be that, so it’s not a failure. But I do wish I had seen DIAL M first, so that my expectations wouldn’t have been quite so high.

Does that make it sound as though I don’t like this film? I certainly don’t want to make that impression. This is a very good script with very good acting and able direction. An entertaining thriller, DIAL M FOR MURDER is much like Hitchcock’s earlier ROPE in that it lets us know what the criminals have done, and it is up to the protagonists to attempt to unravel the mystery. It is a tactic which puts us as an audience, at least on a certain level, in cahoots with the antagonist. We still want them to be caught, but we are complicit in the crime to the extent that we know the truth of what has transpired.

In this story, Tony (Ray Milland) has discovered that his wife Margot (Kelly) is cheating on him with Mark (Robert Cummings). Tony doesn’t let on that he knows, instead he convinces Lesgate (Anthony Dawson) to kill his wife for him. Without giving away any plot points, the aftermath of the attack is investigated by Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams).

The script puts us in Tony and Margot’s apartment. We are privy to all that happens within the walls of their home. So we get to see Margot and Mark discussing whether or not to tell Tony of their affair. We see Tony pretending to be nice to Mark. We see Tony convincing Lesgate to kill his wife. We see Tony setting up the house for the attack. We see what happens when Lesgate comes in at night, and so on. Because we are omniscient in the sense that nothing is hidden from us, the tension is allowed to build despite the fact that a single latch-key is one of Hitchcock’s weakest MacGuffins. Had someone else directed this film it may have been equally well acted, equally well written in terms of dialogue. But I venture to guess that the thinish plot would not have created such great tension in another’s hands.

Taught and skipping along, this skews toward the middle-to-high end of Hitchcock’s canon even if it doesn’t contain the same epic scope of some of his later films. I assumed this would be a Grace Kelly vehicle, and instead came away very much impressed by the characters created by Milland and Williams. I did latch on to some folks in this film, just not the ones I thought I would.





~ by johnlink00 on September 22, 2012.

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