A classic Hitchcock mystery thriller, Dial M for Murder was released in the same year as Rear Window but isn’t as well known and didn’t make as much money as the latter film. The movie threads themes of mystery, betrayal and most notably the search for the perfect murder, a theme which permeates much of Hitchcock’s work but most notably Rope, Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt. The plot centres around a London flat where a husband, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) blackmails a former college acquaintance (Anthony Dawson) into murdering his Wife (Grace Kelly) who he believes is having an affair with an American crime novelist (Robert Cummings). Wendice plans the perfect murder but when things go wrong he is quick to think and finds another way of dispatching of his wife.
Like the majority of the dozen or so Hitchcock films I’ve seen so far, Dial M for Murder is very good. Although it is no Psycho or Rope it is a well above average mystery film which features a terrific plot and some decent performances.
Almost all of the film’s scenes take place within the same London flat and apart from a dinner and an interestingly shot trial; the whole film is confined to the four walls of the residence in which Mr Wendice and his Wife live. As such the closing scenes are quite claustrophobic and the lack of room to manoeuvre adds to the tension. The flat is well dressed and full of little nooks and crannies to hide clues and plant evidence. The plot is well thought out and interesting and even when things go wrong with the original plan, there’s a great recovery and the central character, who thinks fast, is able to construct an entirely new plan. The way the mind of the Chief Inspector (John Williams) worked was also great to watch. You could almost see the cogs turning.
The film is a little bit of a reverse of the traditional femme fetale kind of character who may try to pull the same thing off as Wendice. In another film it would have been the woman who attempted to have her husband killed for his money but I liked the little twist on a well trodden idea. The femme fetale idea would have worked well in 1954 but the change of sex doesn’t pin the film down to the era. What does though is a scene in which a Policeman is carrying a handbag. His Chief Inspector tells him not to carry it in public or “You’ll be arrested”. The film was made in an era in which homosexuality was shamefully still illegal in Britain. The trial also sends someone to be hanged, and this is another thing which dates the movie as Capital Punishment was scrapped many decades ago in the UK, as it has been in most civilised countries.
Grace Kelly stars as Mrs. Wendice and gives a good performance. She isn’t spectacular but is solid. Seeing Kelly on screen made me wonder if there has ever been a better looking movie star and I honestly couldn’t think of one. I’m still shocked that she only made eleven films over a six year period. There can’t be many actors who have created such a lasting impression with such a small body of work. Ray Milland is probably the pick of the actors although I enjoyed John Williams’ Chief Inspector. Robert Cummings was also good and in fact the whole cast was fine but there was no real stand out performance that grabbed my eye. It is the plot which stars here.
Dial M for Murder is in classic Hitchcock territory and nicely fits into his filmography. It isn’t perfect but is very good and I was hooked on the premise and plot. The long takes and longer scenes slowed the pace down and made it feel more like a play but there was nothing wrong with that decision. There are better mystery films out there (most of which are other Hitchcock films) but there are a lot more which are worse.
- Alfred Hitchcock's cameo comes at thirteen minutes, in a photograph of a college reunion.
- The movie was shot in 3D but had a limited 3D release. It was released on 3D Blu Ray in 2012.
- Grace Kelly's wardrobe gets progressively darker as the film goes on.