‘Dial M for Murder’ (1954) by Alfred Hitchcock

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cinematographer: Robert Bruks

Writers: Frederick Knott

Stars: Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings

Rating: 83

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  • Dial M For Murder, a film shot in essentially one, tiny apartment room, featuring a smaller scope of a usual Hitchcock story, packs quite a bit of suspense and furthermore, detail into that one room. The main characters are choreographed wonderfully to move about the room and make it feel lively.

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  • Now, for a film that is shot in one apartment room, and without adding anything new to the set design, the feel of the room drastically changes constantly due to two factors: the tone of the conversations, and the detail on the characters themselves. For example, the moment the narrative snaps into a deadly, murder conspiracy is when Charles Swan (Anthony Dawson) and Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) have the discreet meeting on the very same couch Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) were sitting on in the scene before. That narrative device creates a before-and-after effect.
  • In classic Hitchcock form, it’s a nice blend of harmless, playful interactions undermined by horrible assassination plots that are brought on through the characters shallowness and a friendly relationship between Mrs. Wendice and Mark Halliday (Robert Cummiungs), that in reality, is an affair that has given Mr. Wendice an excuse to murder.

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  • It’s a brutal back and forth of the act of hurting someone masked by the sheer hypocrisy of faking joy, that is performed every day instead of outward dealing with the issue. In essence, that’s the heart of the film, but what takes place in the plot are the repercussions of said actions. Tony Wendice’s character is the embodiment of this idea. That he let his marriage go on long enough.
  • Back to the surreal, blindsight feeling in the first act from the Swan and Wendice meeting in their apartment. Talk about a scene with an unbelievable setup, that slowly reels you in with small talk and then dropping information that is backward from the small information gained through Tony’s interactions with his wife and Mark Halliday. The meeting scene is incredible, not only the low-angled cinematography but the actual dialogue in the scene is so precise. The writing is very measured in this film.

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  • I couldn’t go another second without mentioning the true gift to humanity actor, John Williams, and an actor Hitchcock relied on quite often. His performance as Chief Inspector Hubbard is superb in every sense. His performance feels very out there, but that in turns works perfectly with his character that is actually working in the opposite way. The concealing of his actual thoughts while sending the audience a different direction is brilliant. Williams is only in the third act, but he completely steals the show.

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  • However, Grace Kelly shows off that classic effortless performance. Even in a role where she gets attacked, it still looked natural. She was great as she literally is in every Hitchcock film.

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  • The ending is fairly predictable, and by that time, the suspense completely wares off. While I do recognize the brilliance of parts of this film, the overall feel is underwhelming. The scenery can get a tad bit tedious, and it doesn’t allow Hitchcock to show off his framing.

Verdict

Dial M for Murder is an enjoyable film, but to say it’s one of Hitchcock’s best films would be a disservice to his other films. This film had great performances and a fascinating set of ideas, but the narrative fails to evolve. It feels like a low-effort Hitchcock and still delivers as a top-shelf in many ways, but doesn’t have innovative and different feel like his other films. It’s more standard.

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It’s still a great film, in its own right, and despite my heavy expectations of Hitchcock films, this one delivers as an enjoyable film that could be watched over-and-over. It’s short, understanding it’s subject matter and puts together some nice talent. Watch it


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