Movie Critique – Dial M for Murder

For review of other books or movies by Alfred Hitchcock, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A charming villain, a scintillating beauty, a debonair writer; and a relentless detective - all elements needed for a perfect murder mystery. Having Hitchcock direct and produce it only makes it a perfect film to watch. 

Dial M for Murder is a 1954 American crime mystery thriller produced and directed by Sir Alfred Hitchcock. With Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, Anthony Dawson, and John Williams in the lead cast, the film was based on a stage play of the same name by Frederick Knott who also wrote the screenplay for the film. This is the first of the three films in the Grace Kelly - Hitchcock collaboration. 

Tony Wendice (portrayed by Ray Milland), a British ex-professional tennis player is married to a rich socialite, Margot Wendice (portrayed by Grace Kelly). When he discovers Margot's alleged affair, he decides to have her murdered in revenge. He hires his old acquaintance Charles Alexander Swann (portrayed by Anthony Dawson) through blackmail to kill his wife. Things start to go not as planned for Tony as the plot progresses.

This film reminded me of two films - 1948 American thriller film noir Sorry, Wrong Number and 1998 American crime thriller A Perfect Murder - that made me wonder if they inspired each other. And I wasn’t far off the mark. At least the 1998 A Perfect Murder was a remake with a few changes. There were several revivals and adaptations of "Dial M for Murder" though.

Anthony Dawson as Charles Alexander Swann and John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard reprised their roles from the theatrical presentation. John Williams had won the 1953 Tony Award (Broadway) for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his role in the theatrical version.

Ray Milland as the selfish and cunning Tony Wendice suits perfectly. I remember him in two of the episodes in the hit TV show Columbo - 1971 episode Death Lends a Hand and the 1973 episode The Greenhouse Jungle. In one he is a good guy and in another he is a bad guy. However for me he always suited as an anti-hero best is what I thought. This movie asserted my assumption.

Initially the film was shown in 3-D version. However due to poor ratings and complaints from audience, the film makers continued to show the film only as a 2-D version, which got it a success as well. The only film by Hitchcock to be produced in 3-D. Color was by WarnerColor.

The usage of low light and keeping shooting more to indoors added to the chilling effect viewers got while watching. Hitchcock even had Grace Kelly's costume change from bright colors in the beginning of the film to more darker shades towards the end, causing it to create a sinister feel.

In one of the conversations Margot asks Mark Halliday (portrayed by Robert Cummings), an American mystery writer, "Do you really believe in a perfect murder?" I suppose the 1998 remake picked their title from that dialogue.  

It is told that Hitchcock hated doing this movie. I guess that is why the film had so many errors that I have mentioned in the spoiler alerts below. The film's opening credits were shown on a background of a British telephone dial with it's MN/6 changed to one single large M. However right before the title appears, the telephone in it's entirety is shown. There is also an intermission in this film.

As always be it bright colors or dark shades, Grace Kelly carries them on well and has a very distinct style to her clothing. I always wish I could get her designs made for me too. 

John Williams is an able Chief Inspector Hubbard. However I felt that he was doing his role like he would perform on a stage as opposed to a film. I suppose that made the scenes a bit less grim. Although he reminded me of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes a lot. 

The only flaw in the film is the role of Robert Cummings as Mark Halliday. Milland, Kelly and Williams have performed so above the top that Cummings comes off as an afterthought in every scene. He is charming and handsome no doubt, but was overshadowed by the superb performance of the other three.

A charming villain, a scintillating beauty, a debonair writer; and a relentless detective - all elements needed for a perfect murder mystery. Having Hitchcock direct and produce it only makes it a perfect film to watch. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. In 1981 an American TV film was made based on this film with Andie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer.

b. It partly inspired the 1985 Hindi Indian language film Aitbaar (= Trust). This movie has been on my list to watch for a long time. I guess it would be time to watch it now.

c. There were other Indian movies based on this film - 1985 Tamil language Saavi; 1989 Malayalam language New Year; 2002 Hindi Indian language film Humraaz (= Confidant) was based on A Perfect Murder.

d. Grace Kelly made two more films with Hitchcock, of the total 11 movies she made in her career 1954 Rear Window and 1955 To Catch a Thief.

e. Hitchcock always has a cameo appearance in his movies. However in this film he is just in a black and white reunion photograph sitting at a banquet table with former students and faculty.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. When Swann first arrives at the Wendice's flat, Tony mentions that both are from the same college and that Tony had joined when Swann was in his last year. And a few minutes later he shows a college reunion dinner photograph where both Tony and Swann are in there. How come they are in the same class if Tony joined later? Or did Tony mean that he joined the college in Swann's class in the final year only? If they graduated years apart how were they at the same reunion?

b. When Swann and Tony are sitting down and talking, we can see only their glass snifters with drinks on the coffee table. However the immediate closeup shot of Swann shows him refilling his glass from a bottle. Neither of them moved and yet a bottle appeared on the table. 

c. Again after a little while of their conversation, Tony wipes their glasses and puts them back on the drink table on the side. Yet a little after, Swann attempts to pour into his glass which is back on the center table again.

d. When Mark and Tony are preparing to go to their stag party the night of the planned murder, Tony closes the curtains to the window. A little while later those curtains are open and he closes them again.

e. The watch that Swann wears before he enters the apartment and afterwards are both different. 

f. Margot's paper clippings are collected from various newspapers. However when the clippings are shown all the back side is blank. How is that possible?

g. When Margot is brought back to her apartment, it is obvious that the long shot has Kelly's body double. Also when Margot is entering the apartment, the background now is a still since the policemen are not moving as well as nothing in the street is moving or no passing cars seen.

h. A huge plot hole I see is that how does a simple inspector get to release Margot temporarily from prison without any police escort, specially right before the death sentence is being implemented. Shouldn’t there need to be appeals to superior courts and further proof provided of her innocence before her release? Or is it that we assume all that has taken place and she has been released? In that case, wouldn’t Tony know about it in advance and be prepared well?


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