Dial “M” for Murder

Screen Shot 2013-03-09 at 10.31.25 PM

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings. 1954.

Viewed: Saturday, March 9th

Who Hadn’t Seen It: Brad and Monica

We spent a great 24-hour vacation in Detroit last September, and part of that great tiny trip was a lovely hotel room downtown. While getting ready to go out to dinner we had the television turned to the local PBS station, and it was showing the Hitchcock classic Dial “M” for Murder. The introduction was all about the 3D aspects of the film, and the early performance from Grace Kelly. We were mesmerized, and we were slow heading down to dinner so we could get a couple more minutes with it.

We’ve both seen our fair share of Hitchcock, but there are still a lot of films that we’re collectively missing – including this 1954 classic. It centers on a former-professional tennis player (Ray Milland) who’s discovered his wife (Grace Kelly) is cheating on him with a crime novelist and blackmails a former college acquaintance and small time thief to kill her and make it look like a botched burglary attempt.

Brad: I love Alfred Hitchcock. One of my favorite directors of all time and a true master. That being said I’d swear I’ve only seen a handful of his films (edited to add: not totally true. this makes 10th of his 67 films I’ve seen). The chance to watch more Hitchcock is exactly reason I signed on for this project.

Monica: The fact that this was made in 3D was impossible to ignore after we saw that introduction. Every awkwardly placed liquor bottle and telephone is a reminder. I am told that watching this in the original 3D is a transcendent experience – but I can’t speak to that since we just watched an old DVD from the library.

Brad: The very idea that Hitchcock went in for the 3D crazy of the 1950’s makes me giggle with delight (and scratch my head a bit too). Knowing that this was a 3D film up front was paramount. If I hadn’t known, I would have been driven crazy by the awkward mise en scene (see what I did there). I would have loved to see this in it’s original 3D glory though. Grace Kelly’s hand reaching out into the audience alone would have been worth the price of admission.

Monica: You know I love it when you say mise en scene. This film is pure theater – with only a couple of moments outside of the apartment, most of the action is clearly lifted directly from the stage play. The performances are similarly lacquered but I would never describe the film as static.

Brad: Not always a fan of stage play adaptations, but this one isn’t clunky. Staying mostly true to the single setting doesn’t hinder the picture. It helps with the tension as the flat is essentially a prison cell for our leads, foreshadowing the last act of the film.

Monica: Grace Kelly is completely stunning. Perfect blonde Hitchcock ice queen, and I enjoyed her performance in those early scenes. After she is attacked and subsequently accused of murder, her character goes completely limp and loses any semblance of agency. But she does wear this iconic red dress:

And this one, which I would wear to work tomorrow, though not as nearly as well as Ms. Kelly.

The collar alone makes me swoon. Anyway.

Brad: Hitchcock has issues with presenting women with agency? No, say it ain’t so (insert sarcasm emoticon). But seriously, you have to love the queen of the blonde ice queens, Grace Kelly.

Monica: The other really memorable thing about this film is the attack scene. As occasionally mannered as the rest of the film could be, the way Swann ultimately goes after Margot and the way she fights back is totally insane. I held my breath until it was over, but the strength of that scene was also a reminder of my relative blase about the rest of the film.

Brad: The whole sequence, cutting from the “stag” party to the flat, is rife with tension. Brilliantly played out from start to finish. Aside from the earlier scene where Milland blackmails Cummings into agreeing to kill Kelly, no other scene comes even remotely close to capturing the same degree of skill or interest.

Monica: It was really entertaining. Really. I had fun watching it, it just clearly belongs on the Hitchcock B-list in my eyes. The fact that this came out the same year as Rear Window is both incredibly impressive and damning.

Brad: Holy shit! This came out the same year as Rear Window? Fuck this movie then. Time to throw this project out the window and go watch Rear Window for the umpteenth time.
(Editor’s note: Rear Window is in Brad Brooks’ Top Ten Movies of All Time List)

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