Thursday 26 July 2018: Dial Hitchcock for Murder

Dial M for Murder (1954)

An Alfred Hitchcock Film
Screenplay by Frederick Knott based on his play

This was the first of three consecutive Hitchcock films starring Grace Kelly. Gradually, as they progressed, she had less and less to do as an actress. This first Hitchcock film gives her significantly more scope as an actress than either Rear Window (1954) or To Catch a Thief (1955).

Like Rope (1948), it is a stage-bound play which offers no respite from its paramaters. Not that this matters for Hitchcock who was known to deliberately create his own one-set boundaries, like he did with Rear Window and Lifeboat (1945). Most directors would be terrified of shooting with just one set let alone imposing those strictures upon oneself. These challenges sometimes frustrated critics who thought it was Hitchcock displaying technique over style. Other times they loved it (Rear Window), ranking it as one of, if not, his greatest film(s).

Dial M for Murder falls neatly into two halves: the husband’s plot to kill his wife, and the policeman’s plot to prove the husband is the killer. It’s an interesting three-hander of a film, which plays with Kelly, Milland and Cummings initially, briefly Kelly, Milland and the Inspector, then finally the Inspector, Cummings and Milland.

Knowing the outcome can take away the only thing the film has to offer if each individual viewer can see nothing more in the film than the outcome. Knowing the outcome, though, wasn’t a problem which stopped people seeing Jaws(1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Star Wars (1977) multiple times in theatres on their initial releases. Nor should it be here. The execution by all the players is, for me, the largest part of my enjoyment of the film. Particularly an oldhand like John Williams, a character actor of the 1940s and 50s, who plays a similar kind of character in To Catch a Thief.

The strangest thing about Dial M for Murder are Hitchcock’s camera angles and the height at which he shoots most of the scenes. I’d seen the film three or four times before I knew that it was made in 3D and intended to only be seen in 3D, with those cardboard glasses with a red and a blue lense. I was fortunate enough to attend a 3D-screening in the 1980s at the Glebe Valhalla, and it was one of the best Hitchcock experiences of my life. His incredible use of foreground and background, used 3D to increase depth of field within the frame, rather than to make it look as if things were protruding from the screen and hanging over the audience. It was such an intelligently crafted use of 3D which now, when seen normally, looks really odd.

I have a 3D blu-ray of the film but when I tried to use my 3D glasses it didn’t work. I’m not sure what the problem was but it was bitterly disappointing and I had to suffice watching a regular DVD.

A good Hitchcock film which doesn’t rank amongst his twenty best films.