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Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), an ex-tennis player, unhappily married to
Margot (Grace Kelly), correctly guesses that she has been cheating,
with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Mark writes crime stories.
Unbeknown to Margot and Mark, Tony knows about the affair, and wants to
teach Margot a little lesson, by taking away the thing that is her
life. But, being too guileful to do it himself, Wendice blackmails one
of his old school friends into murdering her, and the essential thing
to doing it is his latchkey.
Dial M for Murder succeeds on many levels, and it is largely thanks to some superb dialogue, written from a tricksy-yet-capable script that never gets too deep. The cast are a treat. Ray Milland is an absolute gem, extremely sly and dispassionate, yet a character so full of self-assurance that one almost sides with him. Grace Kelly completes her great year (she gave an Oscar-winning performance in The Country Girl and also starred in Rear Window) by emanating the poised, beautiful being, that is vulnerable, yet oddly unassailable. And it's weird in that even though she's cheating on her husband, you care for her a lot more than him (although that could do with the fact that he's trying to kill her...) And John Williams, as the police detective, is quite wonderful.
Alfred Hitchcock manipulates and enthrals his audience here like the master that he is. Each scene has a sense of direction, great pacing, and is staged realistically. Stunning full colour photography and a haunting, atmospheric score from Dimitri Tiomkin complete this great package. The ending, when it comes, feels a little too nice to be truly realistic, but that is my only major quibble with an otherwise highly entertaining, thrilling movie.
After earning an Academy award nomination for her performance in John
Ford's 1953 tale of romance and adventure, "Mogambo", the beautiful
actress Grace Kelly proved that she was way more than just a pretty
face and that there was real talent behind her image. However, what
truly took her career to new levels were three now classic films she
made directed by the legendary Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.
Under his direction, Kelly made an integral part of the Master's films,
becoming the perfect embodiment of Hitchcock's idea of a female
protagonist. While Kelly debuted two years earlier in the classic
Western "High Noon", one could say that it was Hitchcock who really
introduced the beauty and talent of Grace Kelly to the world. "Dial M
for Murder" was the first of Hitchcock's films with Kelly, and a movie
where once again the Master returns to a familiar theme: the perfect
The movie is the story of Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), a former tennis player married to the beautiful and wealthy Margot (Grace Kelly) and living in an nice apartment in London. Life is good for Tony, until he discovers that his wife is cheating on him with an old flame of her, famous crime novel writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). After that discovery, Tony spends a whole years plotting the perfect way to murder his wife in order to inherit her money, carefully planning every detail of the crime. When Mark visits London again, Tony finds the perfect chance to set his plan in motion, and as planned, he recruits Charles Swann (Anthony Dawson) to kill his wife. However, bad luck and a sudden change of events will test Tony's plan's infallibility as, just as Mark points out, human action can originate flaws even in the most perfectly devised plan.
Like most Hitchcock's films, "Dial M for Murder" was an adaptation of another art-form, this time a popular play by Frederick Knott. As Knott was also the writer of the screenplay, the movie remains extremely faithful to the play, although of course, not without its differences. Knott's script is wonderfully constructed, as like in the play, the dialog is witty and simply captivating, with many twists and turns that spiced up the complex plot and keep it from being boring or tiresome. An interesting feature of the movie is that oddly, there are no black and white morality in the characters, and it's easy not only to sympathize with Margot (despite she being cheating on her husband) but also to sympathize with Tony (despite he wanting to kill his wife), as the characters are wonderfully developed with very detailed personalities.
It seems that Hitchcock's knows that the dialog is the highlight of the play, as he deliberately focuses on his actors and uses an elegant camera-work to frame the whole movie inside the apartment. The movie literally is shot entirely in one single room (only two other sets are used, and only briefly), but Hitchcock's classy way of using the camera allow a highly dynamic flow that never lets the movie be tiresome. This is also very helpful as Hitchcock just lets his characters keep speaking, carefully describing actions and events (when other directors would use flashbacks) in a similar way to a what the real play would be. While this approach could easily get boring, Hitchcock's use of colors and overall visual imagery simply creates the perfect medium to allow Knott's dialog to shine.
Without disrespecting John Ford or Fred Zinnemann, I think that it was Hitchcock who finally could allow Kelly's talent to shine beyond her physical beauty. Grace Kelly makes her character shine with her subtle and restrained performance, specially showing her skill in the second half of the film. While often Kelly receives top honors in this movie, it is actually Ray Milland who makes the whole movie work with his suave and charming "villian". Milland's performance is simply terrific, making his character nice enough to win the sympathies of the audience, yet still frighteningly intelligent as the mastermind of the plot. John Williams appears as the Inspector in charge to solve the complex puzzle, and delivers a classic performance as the Enlgish gentleman decided to find the final answer. Only Robert Cummings seems miscast as Mark Halliday, although a lot of his weak performance could be blamed to Milland, Kelly and Williams overshadowing him with their excellent work.
In many ways, "Dial M for Murder" shares many things with "Rope", as not only the two films are based on successful plays, they are also about committing the perfect murder and oddly, they are both "experiments": while "Rope" was conceived as a "movie in one take", "Dial M for Murder" was done as 3-D movie. Sadly, the interest in 3-D was dying when the film was released, so few theaters carried the movie complete with the gimmick; a real shame, as Hitchcock's use of the technology, unlike most 3-D films of its time, was conceived as a way to enhance the claustrophobia of the Wendices' apartment instead of using it to merely shock the audience with "stuff coming out of the screen" (as seen in for example, "House of Wax"). While not too fond of the gimmick, Hitchcock truly gave it a good and intelligent (albeit subtle) use to it.
"Dial M for Murder" is probably less celebrated than the Master's most famous movies, the fact that it came out the same years as "Rear Window" (again with Grace Kelly) may have had something to do with it too. While a subtler and more restrained tale of suspense, this is still the Master at his best, as the movie proves that when he was at the top of his game, no other director was comparable to him. 9/10
1954 was a big year for Grace Kelly. She played in Hitchcock's classic
"Rear window" and she won an Oscar for best actress in "The country girl"
and most people tend to forget that she starred in yet another classic,
"Dial M for murder". Starring Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, and Robert
Cummings, it is simply one of Hitchcock's finest movies of all-time. In
fact, I would consider it to be my second favorite Hitchcock movie ever, my
first being "Psycho" (although I haven't seen "Rear window"
Margot (Grace Kelly) is married to Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), an ex-tennis player. However, she has been seeing another man named Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Mark writes crime stories. The two of them think that Tony doesn't know about their relationship but they're wrong; Tony has known about this relationship for one year and seems to have had enough of it. So when Mark, who lives in New-York, comes to London to see Margot, Tony wants to go out with Mark and his wife. But the night of the event, Tony is unable to go. So he tells Margot to take Mark out and to have a good time. The only problem is that Tony doesn't really have something that's keeping him from going out with Margot and Mark. He has another plan, the plan being to blackmail one of his old college friends that has become a small time crook into murdering his wife.
What follows this is pure entertainment at its best. As usual, Hitchcock masterfully directs this movie and has the right actors to do the job. Ray Milland and Grace Kelly deliver very good performances and surprisingly enough, Robert Cummings does a rather good job in his role of Mark Halliday, the American crime novel writer who accidentally stumbles on the answer. But it is John Williams who steals the show with his great performance as Inspector Hubbard, the detective who holds the key to the whole mistery. He is simply excellent and pretty funny when he is supposed to be. Another of his great performances is in "Witness for the prosecution" where he played Brogan Moore, Charles Laughton's very good friend and seconding lawyer in the case. As for "Dial M for murder", well it's one of those movies that anyone should see at pretty much any cost.
Hitchcock brings the successful play, Dial M for Murder by Frederick
Knott, to life in a shocking new way. Adapted by use of the amazing 3D
This movie is unique for Hitchcock in many ways. It is shot entirely in one room, yet there is never a moment of claustrophobia. As for many movies in the early 50's, it was shot in 3D. And you will at times notice scenes that play into that, but are done with the greatest of expertise. Also he chose not to change the play at all, but rather ride it out.
As the aging tennis pro or the jealous husband, Ray Milland is solid all the way through. And what can I say about Grace Kelly. Behind only Ingrid Bergman and Donna Reed, as the most beautiful and talented actresses of all time. She never fails to impress. She can be quite a darling and at the same time a spectacular bitch.
Probably my favorite Hitchcock film, since it is the first one I saw. I was introduced to him very early in life at the age of 7, by my wicked older sister. For years Psycho haunted me and Vertigo confused. But I do thank her for Notorious and Rear Window. Dial M for and North by Northwest.
Seems to me that Hitch was not the most attractive guy, yet like all of us he favored beautiful women. Especially blonde's. This leads me to the question of, what does a guy like Hitchcock know about women? Maybe simply, how to kill them.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut
to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it
This is a fine example of the kind of mystery that little old ladies from Pasadena (or Russell Square) adore. Perhaps Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) starring Cary Grant might be comparable in its gentile and bloodless ability to glue us to the screen.
This is certainly one of Hitchcock's best, but most of the credit must go to a devilishly clever play written by Frederick Knott from which the movie was adapted. (He also wrote Wait Until Dark (1967) starring Audrey Hepburn.) Hitchcock does a good job in not tinkering unnecessarily with the material. He also has the exquisitely beautiful Grace Kelly to play the part of Margot Wendice.
Ray Milland plays, with a kind of high-toned Brit panache, her diabolical husband, Tony Wendice, a one-time tennis star who married mostly for security. John Williams is the prim and proper Chief Inspector Hubbard. He lends to the part a bit of Sherlock Holmesian flair. One especially liked his taking a moment to comb his mustache after the case is solved. Robert Cummings, unfortunately plays Margot's American boyfriend as inventively as a sawhorse. For those of you who might have blinked, Hitchcock makes his traditional appearance in the photo on the wall from Tony Wendice's undergraduate days.
The fulcrum of the plot is the latchkey. It is the clue that (literally) unlocks the mystery. There is a modernized redoing of this movie called A Perfect Murder (1998) starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in which a similar business with latchkeys is employed. I am not very good with clues so it was only after seeing that movie and Dial M for Murder for the second time that I finally understood what happened. Follow the latchkey!
Of course I was too distracted by Grace Kelly to fully appreciate such intricacies. I found myself struck with the ironic notion that anyone, even a cuckolded husband, might want to kill Grace Kelly or that a jury might find her guilty of anything! She remains in my psyche America's fairytale princess who quit Hollywood at the height of her popularity after only five years and eleven movies to become a real princess by marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco. Something was lost there, and something was gained. She was in essence the original Jackie Kennedy Onassis. I think, however, that the old saw about the man who marries for money, earning it, might apply to American princesses as well.
At any rate, Grace Kelly's cool and sublime bearing was on fine display here. Hitchcock cloths her in discreet nightgowns and snug (but certainly not clinging) dresses that show off her delicate figure and her exquisite arms and hint oh so coyly at her subtle sexuality. She was 25-years-old, stunningly beautiful, and in full confidence of her ability as an actress. She had just finished starring opposite James Stewart in another splendid Hitchcock one-room mystery, Rear Window (1954), and was about to make The Country Girl (1954) with Bing Crosby for which she would win an Oscar for Best Actress.
So see this for Grace Kelly who makes Gwyneth Paltrow (whom I adore) look downright gawky, and for Ray Milland whose urbane scheming seems a layer or two of hell removed from Michael Douglas's evil manipulations.
By the way, the "original theatrical trailer" preceding these Warner Brothers Classic videos is what we used to call the "Coming Attractions"--that is, clips directly from the movie and a promo. You might want to fast forward to the movie itself.
Surprisingly this is a lesser-known Hitchcock film but still stands up today
as an exciting thriller full of twists and turns.
Ray Milland is excellent as ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice who decides to commit the perfect murder of his wife (Grace Kelly) when he learns of her affair with Robert Cummings (who isn't given much to do). In fact, Milland's subtle performance has you wanting the murder plot to work! Though it has to be said, Kelly's helpless female turn does not help in this regard either.
Hitchcock's skill here is to totally involve the viewer in the labyrinthine plot involving keys, telephone calls and stockings so that at the end of the film you haven't even noticed that virtually all the scenes are in one room.
If you like clever, wordy films with a touch of humour then I recommend `Dial M For Murder'. 8/10
There is a lot to admire about Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder,"
and I do hold the film with a great deal of admiration and respect.
However, what I adore about the movie the most (more than the
cinematography, the suspense, the acting, and even the direction) is
the work by screenwriter Frederick Knott. Mr. Knott based the
screenplay for "Dial M for Murder" on his successful stage production,
which I have never seen, but am told contains almost all of the words
we hear in the film. And the words are music to the ears. They sing
with intelligence, wit that Mr. Hitchcock certainly found attractive,
and, best of all, an easy transition to the screen. Many times when a
stage production goes to film, as far as I am concerned, the results,
even if good, are uneven. Frequently, the dialogue and restricted set
space allowed tend to give off the impression of a filmed play, not a
cinematic experience. Another Hitchcock film, 1948's "Rope," though
valiant, interesting, and successful, attempted this and suffered from
this difficult struggle.
But the dialogue, put on film here, is exceptional. I write this review having seen "Dial M for Murder" two or three times and wanting to see it once again. Many reviewers, myself included, have tried watching films with the sound off. I want to try the opposite. I want to close my eyes and just listen to the dialogue because it's so strong. The MacGuffin conversation at the beginning, with a perfectly cast Ray Milland blackmailing a perfectly cast Anthony Dawson into murdering a perfectly cast Grace Kelly is brilliantly written by Mr. Knott. It was clearly from a stage production, as it explains the plot background in great detail, and goes on for the better part of twenty minutes. Both men are fleshed out, giving us their personalities and individual tendencies. And even though "Dial M for Murder" pretty much stays on just one small set (an apartment in London, in which we see mostly the foyer, a little of the bedroom, and just a glimpse of the kitchen), what happens there is so fascinating that we do not really want to venture out into the city.
And that is just the setup. The dialogue remains insistently interesting and clever throughout the picture. It also has that subtle, dark sense of humor that Alfred Hitchcock was keen on. It also has the ironic touches, such as when Mr. Milland, as the jealous husband, kisses his unfaithful wife on the night she is to be murdered, and tells her: "Goodbye, my dear." The audience, having been given every single little detail about the scheme and how it is to unfold, cringes with a dark realization that Mr. Hitchcock might just go through with Mr. Milland's plot. Mr. Hitchcock, as the director, is also due tremendous credit for his trademark of creating tension. Screenwriter Knott brilliantly lays out for the audience, not the victim, how the murder will go through, but Mr. Hitchcock's camera dutifully follows everything as the scheme goes along. And, before we realize it, if something starts to go wrong, we become scared and tense. And you can imagine my guilt when I realized I was feeling scared that a plan to murder someone just might not go through. It's Mr. Hitchcock's gift at work.
Dimitri Tiomkin, a very good film composer, hits all the write notes; that includes knowing when he needs to tell his violins and trumpets to shut up. Robert Burks' cinematography is also strong with effective usage of shadows and streaks of light. Colors are omnipresent. And even though "Dial M for Murder" was shot with the intent to be seen in 3D, it is hardly evident. When I first saw the film, in much superior 2D, I did not mind the lamps and such in the foreground, such as when one bisects the screen between Ray Milland and Anthony Dawson during the opening sequence. I just thought it was a clever piece of filmmaking and misc en scene, not a cheap gimmick like in most 3D movies today. "Dial M for Murder" is a near-perfect movie of its kind, pumped full of smart dialogue and dazzling energy. This is one of the few play-to-movie transition that I have seen where I have suddenly become eager to see the original stage production.
In London, the wealthy Margot Mary Wendice (Grace Kelly) had a brief
love affair with the American writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings)
one year ago while her husband and professional tennis player Tony
Wendice (Ray Milland) is traveling in a tennis tour. Tony quits playing
to dedicate to his wife and finds a regular job and she decides to give
a second chance for their marriage. When Mark arrives from America to
visit the couple, Margot tells him that she had destroyed all his
letter but one that was stolen in a depot; then she was blackmailed
through letters but she had never retrieved the stolen letter. Tony
arrives home and claims that he needs to work, and asks Margot to go
with Mark to the theater. Meanwhile Tony calls the scum Captain Lesgate
- aka Charles Alexander Swann (Anthony Dawson) that studied with him in
the college and blackmails him to murder his wife, so that he would
inherit her fortune. But there is no perfect crime, and things do not
work as planned by Tony.
"Dial M for Murder" is one of the best thrillers of cinema history, with a theatrical story supported by an excellent screenplay and top-notch performances. Ray Milland is superb in the role of the Machiavellian and cynical Tony Wendice; Grace Kelly is extremely gorgeous and sweet in the role of a wife in the 50's; and John Williams is great in the role of the efficient and fussy Chief Inspector Hubbard. This time, the cameo of Alfred Hitchcock is in the picture of Tony's reunion. In 1998, Andrew Davis remade this movie with "A Perfect Crime", with Michael Douglas, Gwineth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "Disque M para Matar" ("Dial M for Murder")
The hit Broadway play by Frederick Knott "Dial M for Murder" has been
adapted to the screen several times, including the films made in West
Germany and Sweden, as well as a TV movie in 1981 (TV) by Boris Seagal
and the film "A Perfect Murder" (1998) directed by Andrew Davis with
Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen. Alfred
Hitchcock's 1954 adaptation was the first and certainly the best one
even if the master himself considered it one of his lesser efforts.
"Dial M for Murder" will be remembered as Hitchcock's first color film
and the first of three thrillers he had made with Grace Kelly, the
future Princess of Monaco, in the prime of her beauty and her talent.
Using color proved to be very effective in the film. The first two
scenes featuring Kelly wearing a white morning dress in the idyllic
scene with her husband Tony and right after that kissing passionately
her American lover, writer (Robert Cummings) in the red dress,
immediately, without many words tell the viewer that the story of
passion, deception, betrayal, and ultimately, murder will follow.
Ray Milland (Tony Wendice) is a surprisingly sympathetic villain (which is perhaps not surprising from the actor with talent, charm, and charisma that equal and remind a lot of both Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart) who knows about his wife cheating and decides to teach her a lesson by plotting a very clever murder which will make him a sole heir to her money (she is a wealthy one in the family). His plan is perfect and almost works but Margot managed to not only escape the murderer but to turn the table on him while stunned Wendice is on the phone and listens how his well thought of plan collapses. Wendice is very resourceful and he proved to be a master of improvisation because it took him a few minutes in a cab to switch to a plan B that turned a terrified victim Margot into a cold-blooded murderess. Now it is up to seasoned and shrewd inspector Hubbard (John Williams) to find the crucial piece of evidence and to solve the case.
As always with Hitchcock, his directing is impeccable, the camera rarely leaves Wendice's apartment but the film is never claustrophobic which is the case for many plays' adaptation. It breathes and moves freely and we almost forget that we are in the same room for close to two hours. I would not call "Dial M for Murder" my favorite Hitchcock's film but it is enjoyable, clever, and witty thriller with the interesting twists, outstanding performances, and more than one truly memorable scenes.
What gets me about this film every time I see it is just how simple it
is. The witty urbanity of the dialogue goes without saying (hem), the
acting is stagily impeccable, and the direction by Hitchcock is limited
by the small sets but masterful for all that.
Cold Ray Milland plans and sets up the murder of his demure but faithless wife Grace Kelly by a virtual stranger who is urged on by the stick of exposure of his misdeeds and the carrot of GBP1,000 in used notes. Of course all of his convoluted plans go horribly or thankfully wrong, depending on your point of view, leading to an even more convoluted revised plan. When first seen when young I wasted my time because I wasn't paying attention at the critical moment so missed the point and didn't get it: the key is how did the baddie get into the apartment? It's incredibly verbose, being from a stage play after all and at times it seems nothing more than a radio show with pictures. The long scene setting and verbal sparring by Milland and Anthony Dawson is superb to hear - it's fascinating for its relentless poetry, and of displaying a now-dead world. I could never understand the attraction of 3D movies, least of all with this particular attempt, or why Kelly was continually uglified by the Hollywood machine when she never looked lovelier than in here when she was playing stressed out throughout.
I wonder if Hitch remembered the jokey murder scene he did in 1930 in Elstree Calling when Jameson Thomas realised he was murdering in the wrong apartment? Turn that key you have and go in, it's a remarkably literate film and as intricate inside as any lock.
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