Dial M For Murder

17 Apr

Image

I always worry before I watch an Alfred Hitchcock film. So many are so highly rated, yet don’t really do much for me. North By North West? It’s good, but I found it to be longer than it needed to be. Strangers on a Train? Not my cup of tea. Vertigo? A superb film, but not the best of all time. Maybe I’m just missing something.

With this in mind, I settled down to Dial M For Murder with a degree of skepticism and a niggling fear that I might once again be underwhelmed by a classic. I needn’t have worried, for this is a film that I loved.

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is an ex-tennis professional, and husband to Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly). One year prior to the events we’re seeing, Margot ended an extra-marital affair with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), but he’s back in town and they’re reminiscing. Mark thinks that Tony had no knowledge of the affair, but we’ll soon learn that isn’t the case.

Aware that he would come into a large sum of money should his wife die, Tony reveals an elaborate but seemingly perfect plan to kill her. You’d think that nothing can go wrong, but this is the movies and what would be the point in that? However, when the murder plot does fail, Tony’s quick thinking leads him to a genius back-up plan. Now all he has to do is convince the police of his new story, mainly Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams).

Image

The plot is so well conceived that it’s impossible to lose interest in the film. The vast majority of the film takes place in the Wendice’s apartment, as first we hear of the murder plot, then we see it acted out, then we are shown the subsequent investigation.

The first 30 minutes of this film are as good and as well written as anything I’ve seen from Hitchcock. The dialogue between Tony Margot and Captain Lesgate (Anthony Dawson – another key character) in the apartment is fantastic. This is where we hear the initial murder plot, and Margot has constructed a plan so brilliant it made me laugh. I was constantly in awe of the simple genius of it all and, as every new detail was revealed, I was desperate to hear the next bit. It genuinely had me wondering how it could wrong, which to me displays wonderful story craft.

To make a film that is largely set in one room so thoroughly engaging is another triumph of directorial skill for Hitch. The use of space, the shifting in camera angles to keep it constantly fresh – it’s pretty subtle stuff but it really helps keep film moving. There’s also a lot to be said for how well the film is paced. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, it moves along fairly fast, which is to it’s credit. There are no real lulls at all.

If I could find one fault with the film – and it really is a bit of nitpicking – there are times when it doesn’t seem to be particularly well edited. Seeing characters change their pose or facial expression without actually doing anything is very noticeable at times, due to the film not being cut very cleanly. It’s a minor quibble though, it’s obvious at times early on in the movie, but it doesn’t hamper your enjoyment.

Image

A key area of the film where it is truly impossible to find fault is in the acting. Every character is perfectly portrayed. Milland fills his Tony Wendice with calm, calculated cruelty and intellectual evil. He’s cold but engaging. He is the stand-out character and actor in a superbly written and perfectly cast movie.

For being completely engaging, always entertaining and massively interesting, Dial M For Murder jumps straight to the top of my list of favourite Hitchcock films, knocking Shadow of a Doubt off of it’s perch. It’s a masterclass in story telling and holding suspense.

9/10 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: