Dial M for Murder, USA, 1954
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings
What more could be said about Alfred Hitchcock? He is the godfather of classic cinema. Honestly, was there anyone more talented and popular than Hitchcock from the 1940s through the 1960s? He directed over a dozen masterful thrillers including Shadow of a Doubt, Lifeboat, Notorious, Rope, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds. In 1954, while anticipating the release of Rear Window, one of Hitchcock’s trademark films, Hitch directed Dial M for Murder, an adaptation of the stage play by Frederick Knott, starring one of Hitchcock’s favorite blonde bombshells, Grace Kelly.
Hitchcock and Grace made three films together from 1954-1955. In addition to Dial M, she also starred across Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, and Cary Grant in the crime caper, To Catch a Thief. Ms. Kelly retired from acting a year later, after marrying Rainier III, Prince of Monaco. She died, tragically, in a car accident in 1982, at the age of 52.
Dial M for Murder is a very shrewdly written film. It deals with a former tennis champion who blackmails an old college friend into murdering his adulterous wife. The friend reluctantly agrees and goes ahead with the clever scheme planned by the husband, but it goes terribly wrong and the husband is forced to concoct a plan B. Hitchcock does an expertly job in creating the most tension and thrills out of a very claustrophobic setting. The studio decided to release the film in 3-D hoping to grab audiences by their throats, literally. The bet paid off and the movie was a large success for Hitch and co. Although the 3-D fad of the 50s wore off, the film remained one of Hitchcock’s best thrillers, overshadowed possibly, by the overwhelming reaction to Rear Window, released in theaters just a few months after Dial M for Murder.
Also in the film is Ray Milland, the Oscar winner from Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, and Robert Cummings as Grace’s lover. Dial M for Murder was a welcome return to England for Alfred Hitchcock. Ever since coming to Hollywood in 1940, Mr. Hitchcock had become accustomed to making films in America, primarily working with American actors like James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Joan Fontaine, and Joseph Cotton.
Mr. Hitchcock employs some of his best camera techniques to set up unforeseen twists and turns, and for a film that is nearly six decades old, it still holds up pretty well. That is the sign of a true master filmmaker, and Hitchcock deserves no less than such recognition. His ability to scare the audience is derivative of his ability to manipulate audiences, to convince them that the story will go in one certain direction only to turn the tables and go down a completely altered yet still satisfying path.
After the dual success of Dial M for Murder and Rear Window in 1954, Hitchcock continued to scare audiences until the mid-1970s when health problems took Hitch away from movie sets. When presented with the AFI lifetime achievement award in 1979, he singled out four people he wanted to thank—a film editor, a scriptwriter, his daughter’s mother, and his favorite cook—all four were his wife, Alma Reville. Hitchcock passed away in 1980 at the age of 80.