Games People Play: Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (Warner Brothers 1954)

 

Alfred Hitchcock  wasn’t afraid to take chances. When the 3-D craze hit in the 1950’s, the innovative director jumped on the new technology to make DIAL M FOR MURDER, based on Frederick Knott’s hit play. The film is full of suspense, and contains many of The Master’s signature touches, but on the whole I consider it to be lesser Hitchcock… which is certainly better than most working in the genre, but still not up to par for Hitch.

Knott adapted his play for the screen, and keeps the tension mounting throughout. The story is set in London, and revolves around ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice, whose wife Margot is having an affair with American mystery writer Mark Halliday. Tony comes up with an elaborate plot to have her murdered by stealing a love letter Mark has written and blackmailing her, then setting up his old school acquaintance C.A. Swann, a man of dubious moral character, to carry out the killing. He plans things to a T, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. A stopped watch and a botched strangling end with Margot plunging a pair of scissors into Swann’s back, so Tony must quickly come up with a Plan B, pointing the finger of guilt at Margot, who’s tried and sentenced to hang….

Hitchcock creates some interesting overhead shots to add depth to the 3-D process. Unfortunately, by the time DIAL M FOR MURDER was released, the process was going out of fashion, and the film was mostly released in standard 2-D. It also suffers from staginess, with most of the movie confined to the Wendice apartment. It plays more like an extended, color episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS rather than a Hitchcock thriller, and the director himself has stated he considered it a work-for-hire project. Still, this is Alfred Hitchcock we’re talking about, and even lesser Hitchcock is head and shoulders above what most directors could do with the material.

The cast is top shelf, with Ray Milland as the charming, coldly calculating Tony Wendice. Milland could (and did) play any role with style, and his smooth operator Wendice makes a chilling villain. Grace Kelly is ice blonde Margot in  her first of three Hitchcock films, and as always she’s a stunning presence. Robert Cummings, star of Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR , plays Mark, unaware that Wendice knows he’s involved with Margot. John Williams comes on the scene midway through the film as Inspector Hubbard, investigating the murder and coming up with an elaborate plan of his own to catch the killer. Anthony Dawson, who was the body double of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in two James Bond films , plays the sleazy Swann. Williams and Dawson both reprise their roles from the Broadway original, and as for Hitchcock’s traditional cameo… well, you’ll just have to keep your eyes peeled.

DIAL M FOR MURDER may not be Grade A Hitchcock, but the performances are all solid and the suspense held my interest until the end. Can ask for more than that, even if it is one of Hitch’s minor films… it’s better than none at all! I’d like to thank Maddy at MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS for hosting her 2nd Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon … follow the link for more movies by The Master of Suspense!

 

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12 Replies to “Games People Play: Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (Warner Brothers 1954)”

  1. Best character by far for me was Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) he was just delightful and I was pleased to see him playing pretty much the same inspector in Midnight Lace.
    I do like me self some Ray Milland too. Didn’t know it had a 3D release.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this film so much. Yes it’s stagey, yes there isn’t really all that much character development, but it works well despite that. Hitch was clever and I love how he made us sympathise with Wendice when we really shouldn’t. Ray Milland is excellent in this. I also liked John Williams in this, and he’s great fun in To Catch A Thief too.

    Thanks so much for joining, Gary.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a fantastic cast and as you point out, the suspense grabs hold of the audience till the very end.It’s one of my favourite Hitchcock films. Grace Kelly is as gorgeous as ever and I am especially fond of John Williams as the controlled and measured detective – so British! Thanks for a great review!

    Like

  4. While I agree that the staging of Dial M is rather claustrophobic, I think this underscores Tony’s increasing sense of being trapped in a web of lies of his own making. I love Milland performance in this film. Nobody did menace with a smile like Mr. Milland. Thanks for a great blog. Catch my blog at: maxmcmanus.com.

    Liked by 1 person

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