Dial M for Murder (1954)
Dial M for Murder (1954)

Genre: Crime Drama and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: May 29th, 1954 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Alfred Hitchcock Actors: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson, Patrick Allen, George Leigh

 


 

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he arrival of the Queen Mary brings mystery television writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings) with it – and back into the life of Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly). They’ve been carrying on a long-distance relationship, under the nose of Margot’s husband, former pro tennis player Tony (Ray Milland). Though she was planning on telling her husband for a clean break, recent developments have made things more complicated. Tony’s attitude of late has changed, giving Margot second thoughts about disappointing him, while she was also sent a note by a blackmailer concerning one of Mark’s stolen love letters.

The three of them are scheduled to attend the theater that evening, but Tony skips out at the last minute. It’s evident that he knows more than Margot and Mark anticipate. A short time later, Tony has realtor Captain Leslie (Anthony Dawson) stop by to discuss the sale of an American car. Although they both use aliases, they actually know one another from college some 20 years prior. During a brief chat, aided by brandy and cigars, Wendice reveals that he’d been plotting to kill his wife for her infidelities, and that Leslie – a rather criminalistic fellow – would be the perfect accomplice for the dastardly deed.

“You’re the only person I can trust.” As the twosome carefully plan out the perfect murder, humor and tension are sensationally married, particularly as unexpected variables are certain to arise. This, of course, can be assumed from director Alfred Hitchcock’s involvement, here expanding on his previous picture “Strangers on a Train,” which similarly dealt with the concept of a foolproof killing based on the idea of a culprit with no perceivable motive or connection. Amusingly, right from the start, nothing goes entirely according to plan.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s music shifts between romantic melodies and nerve-wracking violin plucks (there’s even an intermission, despite the standard running time), nicely setting up the impending attack, which is steeped in suspense, violence, panic, and – fortunately for the intended victim – incompetence. A stopped wristwatch, an occupied phone booth, and last-minute hesitation lends to one of the most shocking scenes in Hitchcock’s oeuvre. To keep the thrills coming, the murder ploy isn’t the only element at work; a cover-up, deception, and changing stories complicate matters, while Mark’s crime author background offers up hypotheses, and astute Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) pokes around despite the manufactured explanation that seems airtight at first. Of course, little details don’t quite add up. “I’m afraid you’ll have to think of something better than that.”

Although the first act is where the franticness resides, the brilliance of “Dial M for Murder” is in the aftermath. The spontaneous inventions of how the assault was staged and how the clues can be twisted into convenient narratives provide plenty of cinematic agitation (even if it’s mostly exposition). The audience knows what happened, so the mystery isn’t on the table; instead, it’s about how the genuinely guilty party will meet justice. And with Hitchcock at the helm, it will take a considerable amount of frayed nerves before solutions present themselves; in fact, resolutions pop up just as nearly all hope is lost. The Master of Suspense may prefer to manipulate his viewers, but he’s not so ruthless as to deprive them of a supremely satisfying finale.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10