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Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), a callous playboy who has married well, begins to worry when his wealthy wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), begins an affair with an American writer (Robert Cummings). Sensing a threat to his financial security, Tony plots to murder Margot for her inheritance and proceeds to blackmail a former acquaintance into doing the dirty deed. Of course, things don't work out as Tony planned and therein lies the fun of Dial M For Murder (1954), Alfred Hitchcock's masterful film version of the popular Frederick Knott stage play.
A film with a couple of "firsts" for Hitchcock, Dial M For Murder marked the beginning of the director's collaboration with blonde actress Grace Kelly (They made three films together including Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). It was also the first and only time he filmed a movie in the 3-D format, a visual process that required special glasses to view the film. 3-D movies were a popular fad in the early fifties and studio head Jack Warner ordered Hitchcock to film Dial M For Murder using this new stereoscopic technique. Despite the immense trouble Hitchcock had in using this cumbersome process (The 3-D camera was reportedly as big as a star's "dressing room"), Dial M For Murder was eventually released to movie theatres in a "flat" version but you can still see evidence of the technique in such scenes as the famous scissors murder.
Although Hitchcock often said he had no real personal interest in Dial M For Murder and just considered it a standard contract job, he, nevertheless, transformed it from a routine murder mystery into a tense psychological thriller by exploiting the claustrophobic setting of the Wendice's apartment. In an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock later recalled: "In Dial M For Murder, I did my best to avoid going outside. It happened only two or three times, when the inspector had to verify something, and then, very briefly. Leven had the floor made of real tiles so as to get the sound of the footsteps. In other words, what I did was to emphasize the theatrical aspects." He also found ways to express the psychological state of the jeopardized wife, adding, "We did an interesting color experiment with Grace Kelly's clothing. I dressed her in very gay and bright colors at the beginning of the picture, and as the plot thickened, her clothes became gradually more somber."
In The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock by Donald Spoto, Grace Kelly confirmed Hitchcock's specific wardrobe requests: "He wanted to make a fancy velvet robe for me. He said he wanted the effect of light and shadow on velvet for the murder scene at the desk. I was very unhappy about it, and I told him I didn't think it was right for the part. He said he wanted a particular effect, but I said, "I don't think that this woman is going to put on this great fancy robe if she is getting up in the middle of the night to answer a ringing phone and there's nobody in the apartment." And he said, "Well, what would you do? What would you put on to answer the phone?" I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And he admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done."
There were other details to which the director applied his exacting standards. He personally selected the props for the set including the Wedgwood and Staffordshire figurines for the mantel and supervised the construction of a giant telephone dial with an enormous wooden figure for the extreme close-up shot in the film's credit sequence. As for the key murder scene, Hitchcock lost almost twenty pounds from nervous anxiety, trying to get it right in take after take. After one rehearsal, he said, "This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce - tasteless." A few final notes on Dial M For Murder: Look closely and you can spot Hitchcock's standard cameo appearance in a key scene in the Wendice's apartment; he can be glimpsed in a photograph of Tony's. Dial M For Murder would go on to inspire two remakes - a 1981 television movie with Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer and A Perfect Murder (1998) starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Frederick Knott
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Costume Design: Edward Carrere
Film Editing: Rudi Fehr
Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Principal Cast: Ray Milland (Tony Wendice), Grace Kelly (Margot Mary Wendice), Robert Cummings (Mark Halliday), Anthony Dawson (C.A. Swan/Captain Lesgate), Leo Britt (The Storyteller).
C-106m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford