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  Dial M for Murder Hanging On The Telephone
Year: 1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson, Leo Britt, Patrick Allen, George Leigh, George Alderson, Robin Hughes
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) has a secret: she has been seeing another man behind her husband's back. The husband is former professional tennis player Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), and she is worried he might realise there has been an affair sooner or later, especially as she has something to tell her lover, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), and has invited him fresh off the ship from America to her Maida Vale flat to break the bad news. They had been exchanging letters all the time he was away, but Margot burned all of his just in case - except one, and that has gone missing. And now someone is trying to blackmail her.

Or are they? Dial M for Murder was taken from a hit stage play by Frederick Knott, and given to Alfred Hitchcock as he recharged his batteries, proving just the hit he needed to set him on course for a run of late fifties classics. Part of that has been identified as being the inspiration he took from his new star, one of his Hitchcock Blondes who seemed to provide him a new lease of life in light of him preparing Rear Window while this was being made, and taking Grace Kelly from this to put her in that; it's true that the director's camera truly loved to gaze at her, and she looked more luminous in the three movies she made for him than she did anywhere else, which is saying something for a legendary screen beauty.

As for the material, it was the sort of drawing room, one set thriller where people say things like "This is all very interesting, Inspector, but I don't see what it has to do with me" and relies heavily on a big twist near the end to wrap things up nicely. Hitchcock made very few attempts to open this out, sure there were a few shots not based in the London apartment, but for the most part this was resolutely stagebound, and not helping was the fact this had 3D cinematography forced upon the enterprise, not something the director was happy with, feeling he was making a cash-in fad of a movie which should have stood or fallen on the plot. And it was a pretty good plot, yet Hitch offered a little inspiration to the more traditional effects the third dimension brought.

Most notably the murder scene itself, where Grace Kelly's hand reaching out for the scissors as she is strangled was regarded as a great use of the medium by those who actually watched this in the process - it was very difficult to see in that format for years, with a rerelease in the eighties offering the 3D version its widest distribution ever; originally, except in rare occasions, audiences would have seen this "flat". But why is Margot being murdered? That's down to the machinations of Tony, who is no innocent cuckold but a man running out of money and seeing his unfaithful - and rich - wife as the best method to continue living in the way he had become accustomed. He cannot lose her to another man, or rather he cannot lose her fortune to another man.

Therefore Tony works out a scheme, and he is one of the most devious schemers in Hitchcock's oeuvre, meticulously planning every move, including his recruitment of the murderer: he's not going to get his hands dirty when he can get someone else to do it. Enter stooge Anthony Dawson, who plays the chap Tony went to university with and has had a dubious career since, ideal for participating in a crime, though he's remarkably easy to convince considering he's supposed to be killing a young woman who he has never even met for a man he has a flimsy connection to. But as you'll see, there's a lot of contrivance employed here, which is part of the fun, watching how the characters can possibly outwit a mastermind such as Tony. With a late on appearance by John Williams, not the composer but the actor who had essayed the same role in the original play, fine as the Inspector who seems to have been too easily fooled, Dial M was amusing enough, but its status as one of Hitchcock's classics overstates its case. Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

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