Monday, January 4, 2010

Dial M For Magnificent!

dialm There's just something satisfying about watching an older film and being nearly blown away by the techniques and visual stimulation used in something that is considered to be “old.” I have seen my fair share of Alfred Hitchcock films, but fair share compared to his “girthy body“ of work is nearly a sliver in the big scheme. I love the films of his that I have seen, but I think I have been much too lax in broadening my Hitchcock horizons and for no good reason. I get this way whenever I watch one of his films too and last time was with Strangers on a Train, a film that I completely adored and one that made me think I should watch more of his films...much like I am thinking and telling you right now. dialm1

Maybe it's a good thing that I take time between his films, maybe it makes me appreciate them more when I do see them? If I went into another one of Hitchcock's films right now, all high off the  celluloid extraordinariness - would I be disappointed? Perhaps, but that's just bullshit excuses and I think this cycle all ends with a film by the title of Dial M for Murder. Words cannot express how much I enjoyed this film, but words expressing my enjoyment are kind of key in writing about it, so I better come up with something I guess. 

Tony (Ray Milland) has concocted an intricate plot to murder his wealthy, but unfaithful wife, Margot (Grace Kelly). Tony was a professional tennis player and spent a good portion of their marriage playing dialm2in tennis tournaments, while his beautiful wife sat all alone back home in jolly ol' England. Bored and before soaps, Margot needed a little “manly attention” while Tony was away and she got it from an American crime novelist named Mark (Robert Cummings), who was staying in England for a short period of time. Tony knows of this adulteress event and along with Margot being extremely wealthy, his motivations are all lined up and gives him all the reasons one would need to have his wife murdered. 

Mark is now back in England for a visit and has met and befriended Tony to an extant, but that friendship is all a facade on both of their respective ends as Mark is really in love with Margotdialm3 and Tony knows about their affair. How Tony found out in the first place was a letter that Mark had written to Margot when he left England to go back to America -  Tony got his hands on the letter and actually uses it to play an integral part in his scheme to kill Margot. That's kind of the short of it all as the plot for this film is very intricate, but more so, spoiling any of it would be reprehensible on my part no matter how old this film may be.

Most of the focus is on these three characters and almost the entire film is set in a singular location, which would be Tony and Margot's flat. Much of Dial M is filled with exposition and most of the movie is characters talking about or explaining something to move the plot along. Sounds kind of location, a few characters, and nuttin but talking. However, this one is far from boring and I was dialm5completely intrigued by the intricate details of every move that each character makes, or plans on making. Tables are constantly turned, backs are stabbed multiple times and there is no clear indication as to how things may turn out in the end.

Dial M for Murder is based off a stage play by English playwright Frederick Knott, who also wrote the film's screenplay and the detail put into it is incredible. Every detail is meticulously thought out and as each character explains their plan, it is impossible not to be amazed by the brilliance of it all. Tony's perfect murder scheme is so well thought out and so tight, that there is no way it wouldn't work in his mind and this almost gives him an arrogance about the whole thing. Arrogance leads to mistakes and when one is made, the plot thickens as well as the mystery and tension.

dialm7 Even with all of the long periods of talking throughout the film, Hitchcock is somehow able to make each of these dialogue stretches seem different from one another with a multitude of techniques and camera angles. Dial M is set in one location, but even more so, one main living room and the way that room is shot in so many different ways is an astonishing sight. One long scene towards the film's opening has Tony explaining his murder idea to an unwilling accomplice - as Tony starts acting out how it should all go, the camera jumps to a high angle, almost top down view and in a voyeuristic way, follows every movement that Tony makes. It is quite brilliant and really draws you in to what Tony is saying, which is very important, because the entire film relies on being captivated by the narrative. dialm8

There are so many different little stylistic flourishes that keep you from just staring at a couple of talking heads and no matter how interesting what is being said is, without the visual prowess, it could get a little boring. It certainly doesn't hurt the film that the acting is superb by all involved either and especially with these long scenes of heavy dialogue that are often delivered for lengthy periods of time with very few cuts.  It plays exactly like a stage play and considering that is where the source material stems from, the feel is more than fitting.


Dial M for Murder is a perfect case of all style AND substance and that is a balance not struck often enough. When this balance is found in a film that's 55 year's old, it just makes it that much more impressive to me...I don't know why that is exactly. Probably naivety, or the fact that I have a predetermined thought of movies or “pictures” from that era and how they are stylistically. Hitchcock was leaps and bounds ahead of the curve and it is great to once again be shown why he was such a master, by viewing the phenomenal Dial M for Murder.


  1. If you need help broadening your Hitchcock selection see me! I rented every single one of his movies from the library when I was 10 or so- a delightful summer indeed!

    I LOVE Strangers on a Train-actually I love most of them- but I'm so glad you talked about that in particular. Dial M is fabulous as well and I was all set to watch it on instant view for old times sake when they took it off! The bastards! Have you seen Frenzy? There are BOOBS in it.

  2. I didn't read it yet. I'm commenting to say how excited I am to read it.
    Dial M is in my top 10 Hitch for sure.

  3. Great review! I'm a Hitchcock addict, and while this might not be my favorite (Rear Window = My favorite movie), it's definitely awesome.

    Love that you point out the overhead view of the explanatory scene. Really makes you feel voyeuristic.

  4. Great post Matt!
    I'm glad you enjoyed it so much!
    And I'm in favor of the breaks between Hitchcock consumption. I went on a tear a while back and may have over done it. Peppering them in may prove to be a breath of fresh air.
    You should take a look at "Lifeboat". I think it's still on instant watch. I adore it and I think you'd dig it too.

  5. I have to say "Frenzy" is my favorite of his, but "Dial M for Murder" is definetly a classic. I've seen Dial M in 3D in a theater actually, but I would say its kind of unnecessary and doesn't enhance the movie really. Great movie though!

  6. Andre: That's awesome that you saw them all at such a young age...I was very young when I saw most of the films of his that I have seen like Vertigo and Psycho.

    I watched Dial M right before they took it off instant watch and I am obviously so glad I did. I think I may have even watched Strangers on Netflix too. There is a ton of his films on instant watch and one of them is Frenzy which is one I do really wanna see.

    I've heard great things about it, namely that Hitchcock was able to still keep up and be relevant even in the 70's, so the usage of my favorite twin pillows is not a surprise!

    Christine: I'll get back to you in a second!!

    Mike: Thanks a lot! That scene really added something to the film, something to keep me on my toes, which is what I loved about it so much. I also loved the courtroom scene with Kelly, a technique that has been used many times since that film.

    While I have always had love for Hitchcock, I think now I might become an addict too. I have been nothing short of amazed by every film of his that I've seen.

    Christine: I'm happy that you liked it! I thought of you and your love for his work when I was watching and writing about the movie! I remember when you went Hitchcock crazy that time and you got me all pumped to watch more of his films and I finally watched one!

    I feel like you wrote about Lifeboat? I could be mistaken, but it is on instant watch and I already added it as soon as I read this comment! There is soooooo many of his movies on there...which is just great!

    Kev: I did read about it being a 3D film originally, which seems so odd for such a talky movie? Visually I can see why I guess with all of the camera movement, but it does seem like a strange gimmick for a movie as great as Dial M.

    That is very cool that you got to see it in the theater though and I shall count you as another vote for Frenzy. Maybe that will be one of his next films I watch!


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