Dial M for Murder 3D
Film Title: Dial M for Murder
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams
Running Time: 105 min
The recent anointment, in the 10-yearly Sight & Sound poll, of Vertigo as the current “best film of all time” confirmed that Alfred Hitchcock’s reputation has, if anything, grown in the years since his death. Why not? Even in third gear, he was capable of delivering more finely honed tension than any Hollywood director of his generation.
The somewhat gimmicky, very stagey Dial M for Murder (1954) proves the point. Hitch himself admitted that the film found him “coasting, playing it safe”. But it still features a handful of classic moments that helped define his career.
For all his grasp of psychology and all his innovations in the field of montage, Hitchcock remained a unapologetic populist at heart. He wanted the biggest stars of the day (hence, for example, the appearance of Julie Andrews in Torn Curtain). He insisted on exploiting every available tourist trap (the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the windmills of Holland).
So, it should not surprise us that, when 3D was first in vogue, he asked the audience to don the cardboard glasses. Moreover, unlike high-minded directors today, Hitchcock had no reservations about exploiting the medium in the boldest possible fashion. It would be no exaggeration to say that the sequence in which, while being strangled brutally, Grace Kelly thrusts her hand towards the camera and out into the audience remains the most famous shot in stereoscopic cinema.
It is strange to report that the rest of the picture is as lacking in cinematic oomph as anything Hitchcock shot in his golden period. Based on a hit play by Frederick Knott (who also wrote the blindsploitation smash Wait Until Dark), Dial M for Murder follows a professional tennis player (Ray Milland) as, after failing to kill his posh wife (Kelly), he makes efforts to evade a dogged policeman.
Hitchcock does happen upon some clever inventions: in particular, showing the progress of a trial entirely via close-ups of Kelly’s face. But it still feels a tad set-bound and – like so many plays aimed at visiting coach-parties – a little schematic in its revelations.
Never mind that. Even minor Hitchcock is worth seeing in the cinema when it comes around. The new print is, of course, in 3D. For once, that counts as good news.