“I'm afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I'd make some stupid mistake and never realize it until I found everybody was looking at me.”
Hitchcock loved to innovate and experiment with his films and some might argue that Dial M for Murder is his most straightforward mystery movie. But what we forget is that Hitchcock made this film in 3-D which explains why there are so many low-angle shots. Warner Bros forced him to do so, but in a way we can call this another experimentation from the Master of Suspense. It is by far his most wordy film and just like Rope the screenplay was adapted from a play. The film takes place almost entirely in a small British apartment where Tony (Ray Milland) and Margot (Grace Kelly) live. Over a year ago Margot had an affair with an American crime author named Mark (Robert Cummings) who is now returning to England. Mark meets with Margot and that is where we are introduced to their backstory. They had had a very torrid love affair and he continued to write to her after he returned to America, but she didn’t. She explains that after Mark left, her husband had decided to quit tennis to spend more time with her and that she didn’t want to leave him anymore. What Margot doesn’t know however, is that her husband discovered her secret affair and was simply waiting for the perfect opportunity to have his revenge. Tony blackmails one of his former schoolmates, Swann (Anthony Dawson), and convinces him to murder his wife while he goes to a guys reunion with Mark providing the perfect alibi. Tony has been planning this perfect murder for quite some time so he can inherit her money (she is the one with the wealthy family). But something unexpected happens and the film took some interesting and clever turns that had me at the edge of my seat.
I’ve mentioned before that in my opinion Hitchcock directed his best movies during the 50’s and this is yet another great example of a film that was made during the height of his career. There might not be as many innovative filming techniques here, but the heart of the film relies on its clever story full of unexpected twists. This is the very definition of a mystery film and it stands out for the story alone. If you don’t like wordy films then this isn’t one for you because it feels very theatrical considering it takes place mostly in one room and it relies heavily on explanations. It’s no secret that Hitchcock knows perfectly well how to create suspense and he manages to do so in this talkative movie relying on dialogue this time around more than on anything else. Although I do have to say that the confrontation between Kelly’s character and Dawson is incredibly tense and filmed perfectly. It’s one of the best scenes in the movie and very memorable as well. There is something about the mystery story here that feels like it was taken from an Agatha Christie novel or from Sherlock Holmes, and Hitchcock knew that he had a great story to work with and relied on the power of storytelling this time around.
Grace Kelly is perhaps one of my favorite Hitchcock leading ladies and this might be her best role. I loved Rear Window and she was wonderful in it, but James Stewart owned that film. Here Grace Kelly shines in every scene and she is wonderful in the surprise attack scene as well. Ray Milland, who was unknown to me, did a wonderful job in the lead villain role, while Robert Cummings also delivered. I expected his character to be the one to figure everything out, but Hitchcock does include some clever twists and it’s someone else who takes on the role of Sherlock Holmes, John Williams, who plays the Chief Inspector in this film. In a talky film like this, it is very important that you have convincing actors to play the roles and I felt that the cast delivered solid performances. This film may fly under the radar in Hitchcock’s astonishing filmography, but I had a really good time with the screenplay and enjoyed it more than some other beloved Hitchcock films.