Dial M for Murder

Dial M for Murder ★★★★

In 1954, the studio suzerains decided that 3D was the future and burdened Hitchcock with filming a play, set entirely in a single drawing room, with a camera the size of a Cooper Mini. Hitchcock, known for being experimental, Had reverse experimentation thrust upon him. What kind of movie would Hitchcock make with a broken wist and unable to perform any cinematic gymnastics?

Rather than “ventilate the play,” he emphasized the theatrical aspects. For the most part he just positioned the camera in a pit in the floor of the studio to give the viewer the feeling of having the best seat in the stalls at a theater. I do hope to see it in 3D one day on the big screen.

Even if Hitchcock is dialing it in, the movie is great entertainment due to Frederick Knott’s play and performances. The delightfully artificial mystery is based on the absurd premise that anyone lucky enough to be married to Grace Kelly would be crazy enough to try to kill her, affair or no affair. Having Grace Kelly’s co-respondent be an American pulp mystery writer and tossing out “unbelievable” theories adds a meta-fictional layer.

Kelly’s husband, Ray Milland, tries to plan the perfect murder, but when it isn’t perfect, he tries to pivot to the perfect frame job. He’s suave and urbane, with a glossy finish of false civility coating the brutality of his crimes. Grace Kelly shows amazing range in her transformation from silky and angelic before the attack, to drab and despondent in the last scene.

However, John Williams’ Chief Inspector Hubbard is the highlight. He’s tweedy and avuncular as he buttles his way through the investigation with a mix of deference and hidden cunning. Inspector Hubbard’s DNA contains genetic material from Porfiry Petrovich and Agatha Christie. He’s species that exists no longer in the wild but only in the form of homage like Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc.

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