FILM (1954)

Rewind, Film: 'Dial M for Murder', directed by Alfred Hitchcock

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 5:42pm

Dial M for Murder

Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 thriller begins, even before the opening credits, with a full-screen shot of one of those old, invariably black, Bakelite telephones.

The iconic contraption sits on the desk in the drawing room of a luxury London flat - the home of retired tennis pro and social climber Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), and his beautiful heiress wife, Margot (a chic Grace Kelly). Discovering that, while he was touring on the international circuit, his lonely wife had been embroiled in an affair with an American mystery-novel writer, the usually urbane Tony is consumed with anger, but his fear of losing her money and the lifestyle it has afforded him proves more powerful than his dignity.

Coldly calculating Tony dreams up a scheme to get rid of his cheating wife while keeping her cash, blackmailing a former college acquaintance and conman (played to sleazy perfection by Anthony Dawson) into killing Margot and making it look like a botched burglary while the man of the house is out (with his wife's former lover, no less), and has a foolproof alibi.

That telephone is an essential component in Tony's plan, but a stopped watch and his delayed telephone call throw the whole thing into disarray, and Margot manages to kill the intruder instead. Rushing home on hearing from his hysterical wife, before calling the police Tony plants evidence to make it appear that Margot eliminated the would-be killer to keep him from spilling the beans about her adultery.

Hitchcock's film, much like Rope (1948) and Rear Window (1954), largely takes place in a single setting - the Wendices' flat - and uses dialogue to build atmosphere and suspense. The movie only really hots up after the action (the attempted murder and self-defence killing) has taken place, due to the entrance of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams). Hubbard's steady, meticulous questioning gradually brings the truth to light.

Interestingly, having seen the play on Broadway, Cary Grant had been keen to portray Tony in Hitchcock's adaptation, but Warner Bros studio chiefs felt the public would never accept the debonair Hollywood leading man as the type who would have his wife murdered. What's more, studio bigwig Jack Warner insisted that Hitchcock shot the film in 3-D, which presented limitations that, many have argued, prevented Dial M for Murder from becoming one of the more revered films in the director's oeuvre.

Gary Jones