Alfred Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense. But to me, he is more than that. His films exude the kind of charm that we seldom enjoy these days in thrillers. There are practically very few thrillers that would merit a second view after we know the plot. Contrary to this current scenario, Hitchcock made thrillers like “Dial M For Murder” that I have seen at least a dozen times knowing every dialog, every sequence and where the story was headed next. What was it that brought me back to this film? It was the film’s indelible charm and the wonderfully nuanced performances. But more than anything else, it was Hitchcock’s deft direction that made a masterpiece out of films like this that in lesser hands would have ended up short of greatness. This is a film that has inspired thrillers all across the globe. Even India’s very own Abbas-Mustan made it into the crappy Humraaz. However, even with such bad rip-offs and the sands of time, Dial M For Murder hasn’t lost its charm one bit.
Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) was an ace tennis player who lets go of his passion to be a better husband to his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) after, he comes to know of an affair that she is having with a writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). He knows that a broken relationship will result in him losing the fortunes that his wife has and would incapacitate his rather luxurious life style. But he still harbors hatred for her and starts planning to murder her. He soon meets an old friend Legate from his college days who has secrets of his own. Tony successfully lures and blackmails him into murdering his wife. He plans the episode meticulously and Lesgate almost succeeds but as luck would have it, Margot overpowers and kills him trying to save her own self. When Tony comes to know of this, he intelligently restructures his plan to fit the current scenario and have his wife hanged for premeditated murder of Lesgate. He almost gets through with it.
If you look at this film closely, it’s just a few men talking among themselves. There isn’t much of action. There isn’t that much of drama either. The film mostly unfolds inside a few rooms. Whatever little shots of the outside world are there look shockingly fake and manufactured. But the manner in which the screenplay is written, the dialogs among the men and the acting of the entire cast, is just spellbinding. You as the viewer know from the very beginning who the guilty party is and yet somehow the film maintains an incredible control on your interest and senses. I found myself cheering for Tony, for a rather large portion of the film. Even though he is doing something wrong but his wife was wrong too in having an affair and he somehow extracts my sympathy and support for himself. That has a lot to do with the way Milland portrays the character.
He is so very likeable that I can almost guarantee that anyone and everyone who will see this film will be forced to like his character even if it is for the initial parts. The strongest scenes that he has are the ones he shares with the character of Lesgate, earlier on and then towards the end with Halliday when Halliday interestingly asks him to take the fall for Margot (who is about to be hanged) telling the police exactly the same story that was actually the case. Halliday’s character assumes significance towards the end even though initially he has little to do. Anthony Dawson plays Lesgate with conviction. The manner in which he engages in a give and take with Milland is wonderful to watch. It sets up the mood for the rest of the film. The only complain that I have from his character is the manner in which he dies. Even though that was not his call but of the director, but the way he falls and gets up again and then falls again is just too dramatic for the situation. His body movements where somewhat funny. Grace Kelly is beautiful and she plays the wife torn between a fast changing husband and a flame perfectly. She not only looks the part but extracts emotions for her character which really works well for the film. John Williams plays the investigating inspector and his essay though limited is absolutely charming.
While researching for this review, I found something interesting about this film. Even though it’s hard to believe but Dial M For Murder was made by Hitchcock keeping in mind the 3D format in which the film was supposed to be shown. It was a format which was a craze at that time and Hitch thought why not to use the same in a setting that was not actually a calling for a third dimension. But as you watch the film closely, you find that the film was shot keeping in mind the format. Special mention can be made of the scene where Margot is struggling with Legate to save herself and she outstretches her hand, the scene where Hubbard reveals the key and we get a close-up of it and many more. I immediately searched for the 3D version of the film online. I couldn’t find any but there were some scenes in 3D on YouTube. After watching these scenes I can safely say that what the 3D does for this film is create some interesting visual chemistry between the characters and how they are shot considering the fact that the film unfolds primarily in one room. In doing so the screenplay and the 3rd dimension lets the audience be a part of the search and mystery behaving like an invisible man hidden in the very same room behind tables, chairs, vases etc. and getting a first person perspective on the things happening in the room. The distances between the objects and the characters extracts this illusion perfectly and helps you immerse better in the proceedings.
The film uses very little music and fanfare and that in many ways effects the film positively. The audience’s attention is dawn only to the performances and the structure of the screenplay rather than music and frills. The cinematography is top notch. Even though the film plays out in a single room, the camera angles, the art design and the manner in which the scenes play out keep things interesting. Not to mention the emphasis of the visuals on the performances. There are just about enough close-ups and mid-range shots to put you in the best possible place to see and judge the feelings of the players. Dial M For Murder is one of the best films of Hitchcock. It is also one of the most endlessly re-watchable films of the man. I have seen it before and I will be watching it many times more. Even though it is adapted directly from a play, it is candidly cinematic in its representation of the subject matter. The 3D would, in fact, give you a very similar feeling to watching a play thanks to the depth of field and the distances between the objects that the format conveys so very well. If you are a lover of the genre and Hitchcock’s work, this is a must watch. Even if you are not, it’s still a very desirable watch.
Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)