Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Fig 1 - Dial M for Murder Poster
Based on the stage-play by Frederick Knott, Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder follows the story of a jealous husband who orchestrates the murder of his cheating wife. The film opens with a tense conversation between Margot (Grace Kelly) and her lover Mark (Robert Cummings) as the two anticipate the return of her husband Tony (Ray Milland). Margot is certain that their affair is still a secret, however a letter that Mark wrote to her was previously stolen by a blackmailer in return of a sum of money. Upon arrival, Tony appears none-the-wiser to their infidelity. Although, when Tony is finally left to his own devices, he invites over an old college friend whom he convinces to murder Margot in exchange for fee. When the plan doesn't go as expected, Mark is forced to create an ever-more elaborate web of lies to keep himself from being exposed, leaving an innocent bystander to face the deadly consequences of the incident in his stead...

In typical Hitchcockian style, the film is largely based in one setting (being the apartment of Margot and Tony) which ordinarily might become somewhat claustrophobic to the viewer. However, the space is used to the fullest extent with an array of compositions that fit with the narrative at any given point, also taking advantage of a plethora of lighting techniques which allow the home to transform our perspective based on the tone of each scene. An interesting shot that I noted takes place as Tony explains the precise details of the plan to his college friend. We are almost directly above the two characters as Tony makes his way around the lounge, as if watching a general pushing pawns around the map of a war room. The shot caught my eye as it naturally demonstrated a sense of strategy to Tony's meticulous plan and subsequently gave the space a new dimension in the process.

Fig 2 - Margot meets her fate
I had no idea what the film was about initially, though I did find myself engaged in the characters from the get-go. The film was shot and released partly in 3D due to the initial craze in the 50's, however there was nothing that 'jumped out at me' as technically necessary about having objects in the foreground separate from the background. That said, I am curious to see how a 3D screening may change my interpretation of the film which, incidentally I would only allow since it's Hitchcock.

In terms of performances, I found Ray Millard to be utterly compelling as the sociopath husband. It is undoubtedly in no small part due to Knott's fantastic screenplay, but something about Millard's smooth delivery, which even by the final scene doesn't descend into panic, rather that Tony had been thwarted in a dastardly game of chess. Robert Cummings, as the crime fiction novelist Mark, also gives a great performance in his near-perfect deducing of Tony's plan in a monologue that, unbeknownst to him, almost unravels the entire truth of the mystery.

Overall, I found Dial M for Murder to be a very enjoyable watch despite ever so slightly declining at the three-quarter mark. Not only does the film keep you guessing throughout, it allows you to make assumptions from the gestures and physicality of it's leads, ultimately making you question exactly who you're rooting for.


Fig. 1 Dial M for Murder Poster (1954) From: Dial M for Murder - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock


Fig. 2 Dial M for Murder Screenshot (1954) From: Dial M for Murder - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock


No comments:

Post a Comment