Hitchcock reviews Dial H for Hitchcock. Film reviews by Terrence Brady

3-D photography was in vogue in the early 50’s when Dial M for Murder was produced but, by the time of its release, the experiment had waned and the film was released in the standard 2-D. Originally a successful stage play (by Fred Knott), this 1954 Hitchcock film is far from standard -- though it has its weak points.

In Grace Kelly’s debut role with the "Master of Suspense," she plays an adulteress who finds herself torn between her lover (Robert Cummings) and former tennis pro husband (Ray Milland). Unknown to Kelley or Cummings, Milland has been aware of their torrid affair for nearly a year and has been masterminding a plot to have her killed. He blackmails an old college acquaintance (Anthony Dawson) who has a shady past in his own right and the "perfect crime" is set into motion.

When the scheme takes an unexpected turn, Milland tampers with the crime scene before the police arrive to further his cause. All seems to be going in Milland’s favor until a cunning inspector (John Williams) from the Yard shows up and the perfect crime begins to unravel.

What’s interesting about this film is you find yourself first cheering for the clever and charming Milland who goes about his plans devoid of emotion. It is Kelley who is depicted as the antagonist and when she is accused of the hideous crime, it is a feeling of relief that "she got what was coming to her." But such is not the case for long as Milland’s robot-like mannerisms make him appear "less-than-human" and alienate him from the viewer. His only motivation is one of pure evil while Kelley and Cummings’ only crime was their love for another -- [making them very human and easier for the audience to relate with].

The film could easily get lost in this dry love-triangle murder except for the appearance of the patronizing inspector. Williams not only adds subtle bits of humor to the film but is also the only character standing outside the "triangle" (like the audience) and dissects the murder like a reader would when reading a crime novel. And speaking of crime novels, Cummings (who is a writer of such) is quite entertaining when he proposes to Milland a scheme on how to help Kelley -- which is exactly the way Milland had devised the original murder.

While watching this movie, note how Kelley’s wardrobe changes from bright, cheerful colors early on to more somber hues as the plot thickens. While Hitchcock insisted the story be shot within a single set, he changed Kelley’s wardrobe to establish the mood. Shooting on a single set proved to be a technical challenge but Hitchcock knew that one set would be engaging if the angles were constantly changed so the viewer would see things from different perspectives.

The infamous "strangulation" sequence, though short on screen, took a week to rehearse and another week to shoot. Could you imagine if Hitchcock and B-director Ed Wood had teamed up for a film? Wonder who would had gotten the scissors then?

RATING: 6.0 (of 10). While not Kelley’s best Hitchcock work, Dial M for Murder was the beginning of the "Hitchcock blonde films" and the plot is just absorbing enough to offset the rather flat characters.

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