Sunday, 6 January 2013

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Although lacking the extravagant set pieces or psychological depth of some of his other work, Dial M for Murder is still classic Hitchcock, and a great example of a confident and assured director at the top of his game.

Former tennis pro Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) thinks he has devised the perfect way to get rid of his cheating wife Margot (Grace Kelly, in her first collaboration with Hitchcock) and get his hands on her money. Blackmailing an old college friend into murdering her, it looks like the plan has come unstuck when Margot manages to kill her attacker, but then the police charge her with murder. Can her boyfriend stop her being sent to the gallows?

Dial M for Murder (originally shot in 3D, but rarely seen in that format since) is based very closely on the stage play by Frederick Knott, and it is to Hitchcock’s credit that he resists the urge to expand the location or plot any further. The original story is elaborately but tightly plotted, with hardly an extraneous word or action, and the single location, the Wendice's London flat gives the film a claustrophobic feel.

Ray Milland gives an excellent performance as Tony, smooth, charming, confident and virtually unflappable. Grace Kelly plays Margot across as vulnerable and sympathetic, not easy to achieve, as she is the one cheating.

They are backed by an excellent supporting cast, especially John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard, who goes for the Columbo method of crime solving, by making out he hasn’t got a clue what is going on, while all the time playing cat and mouse games with Tony. Only Margot’s boyfriend Mark (Robert Cummings) comes across as stiff and unappealing, but this may be more to do with Hitchcock playing with the audience expectations, by making the evil schemer much more appealing than the clean cut good guy.

The other star is, of course, Hitchcock, who, with Dial M for Murder, is wise enough to realise that with the right cast and the right script, sometimes it is enough to just point the camera and let them talk.