Arguably nearing the peak of his cinematic career, the year of 1954 brought from Alfred Hitchcock the chilling crime drama Dial M for Murder. Adapted by Fredrick Knott from his own stage play, Hitchcock once again delves into a murderous plot of deceit and damning reality. With the gift of hindsight, does this 1950s thriller look like an out-dated, passable flick, which does not compare to Psycho? Or does it, in fact, hold its own?
After a bitter professional golfer, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), realises his wife, Margot Mary Wendice (Grace Kelly), had been cheating of him with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), he devises a cunning plan to kill her, but are his actions the perfect murder?
In his true, unadulterated style, Hitchcock makes his signature traits within minutes: The iconic blonde female, and the subtle cameos are immediately present. Continuing throughout the whole film, his archetypal murder plot is as bold and intriguing as ever.
Simplicity is often the key to success and Hitchcock is a prevalent advocate of this. Largely due to Knott’s adaption from the stage play, much like a theatre production, the minutes are predominantly spent in the small apartment in which Tony and Margot live. Used three years later to great effect in 12 Angry Men, the concept of using one setting for the whole film is tricky, easily slipping into a repetitive and sluggish nature. Yet, Hitchcock uses this a metaphor for the stifling nature of Tony’s presence: he shows the character, through the settings, to be a contrived and overbearing husband. Hitchcock masterfully utilises this to create genuinely innovative and interesting cinema.
Ironically, Hitchcock’s plot is complex. A web of lies and deceit are intertwined forming an intricate story. Tony’s obsessive intentions are elaborate and the results are even more complex, but, Hitchcock manages to slide through scenes with ease, creating a complicated plot that is clearly explained. Grounded by a constant psychological showdown between Tony and Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), a game of wits ensues which is equally puzzling as it is understandable.
As ever, Hitchcock provides a wide range of characters, which supplement the plot to an exact measure. Tony, the jilted husband, is perhaps the most entertaining: his cold and ruthless nature is masked behind a seemingly caring façade, which is perfected by Milland. Consistently, he is given narrative, which is horrifically cold, which when juxtaposed with the wronged and deluded Margot, makes it clear Tony holds an almost insane nature, which is chillingly pleasurable to watch. One predominant setting relies on a solid script and Knott excels in this regard: from start to finish, not a word is wasted, each gradually building the dramatic tension up to the climatic end.
One room, one murder but 2 hours of pure tension. Dial 83 for 83/100.