Review of “Dial M for Murder” (1954)

trailer from YouTube

We borrowed this from our local library, Main Library | Orange, CA (cityoforange.org) and watched it last week when Svengoolie was a rerun. I’d never seen it all the way and can now understand why it’s regarded as a classic.

Plot:

Tennis star Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) gave up the game at the behest of his wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), and now sells sports equipment. She had money. She also had an affair with an American crime fiction writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), but broke it off when he returned to the States a year earlier. She burned all his letters except one. That one disappeared from her purse when it was stolen. She’s received blackmail threats, which she later paid off. She said not a word to her husband.

Now Halliday has come to England and stops by his old friends’ place for a visit.

Telling Margot and Mark he has urgent work to take care of, Wendice sends them out to the movies and meets up with Charles Swann (Anthony Dawson), an old acquaintance from college who has gone astray. Using both leverage and the enticement of a lot of money, Wendice convinces him to murder Margot while he and Mark are at a stag party the next evening. He had Margot’s letter and was the anonymous blackmailer. He is also the beneficiary of her will.

Wendice has an elaborate plan. It seems to work—at first.

Thoughts:

The viewer is engaged throughout, but not necessarily out of sympathy for the characters. None of them is innocent. Tony Wendice, the wronged husband, is the most despicable, plotting not only the death of his wife but, when that fails, her murder conviction.

He’s convinced himself his plan is foolproof. Yep. Of course, it is. The tension—and some humor—comes from the many near misses. When he invites Halliday to the stag party, he assumes Margot will stay in. She wants to go see a movie. Tension already hangs in the air because he’s going out with the guy his wife cheated on him with. Wendice leans on her to continue to organize his old newspaper clippings from his professional life. Unspoken is the reminder that he quit playing tennis because of her—not to mention that he’s entertaining the guy she slept with.

Of course, she doesn’t mind organizing his old newspaper clippings. She wants to do it.

What a manipulative bastard.

Even when his plan goes disastrously wrong, he thinks on his feet. Will his soft shoe be enough to fool that police inspector who, Colombo-like, always has one more question?

The actors are all convincing. Their reactions are logical in illogical situations, and humor keeps the movie from becoming too weighty.

The film and actors have won several awards, including Alfred Hitchcock, who was nominated in 1955 by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures.

Most of the action takes place in one room. This hearkens back to its origin as a play by the same name written by British playwright Frederick Knott, who also wrote the screenplay. While there is a lot of exposition—the actors talk a lot—this doesn’t get tiresome. Hitchcock employs several tricks to keep the tension high; the actors move around in the room as they’re talking, pour themselves drinks and such things. The camera also moves, so the viewer sees the actors from above, at eye level, and from below.

This is not one for the kiddies, however. The murder scene is not overly gory, but the subject matter—adultery, capital punishment, conspiracy to commit murder, emotional manipulation, etc., would probably go over their heads.

All in all, mighty fine flick.

I could not find a free downloadable copy of this.





Title: Dial M for Murder (1954)


Director:
Alfred Hitchcock

Writer:
Frederick Knott (screenplay by)

Cast:
Ray Milland as Tony Wendice
Grace Kelly as Margot Wendice
Robert Cummings as Mark Halliday
John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard
Anthony Dawson as Charles Swann
Leo Britt as The Storyteller

Released: 1954
Length:  1 hour, 45 minutes
Rated: PG

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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