Dial M for Murder

Dial M for Murder ★★★★½

For the longest time, Dial M for Murder had been my favorite Hitchcock film.

Compared to the likes of Vertigo (1958) or North by Northwest (1959), Dial M for Murder sports an impressive compactness. It’s set almost entirely in one location with a core cast of characters you can count on a single hand, and that’s being generous. This is peak Hitchcock. No flamboyant set pieces. No crazy camerawork. Just good old-fashioned murder and fantastic storytelling. (This skirts around the film’s brief flirtation with 3D, but that’s beside the point.)

Dial M for Murder is a showcase of how much Hitchcock could do with so little. An apartment, an affair, and a murder gone wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it). Had the film been attached to a less capable director, the plot would’ve come off as utterly ridiculous. But under Hitchcock it's unabashedly engrossing.

Adapted from the Frederick Knott stageplay of the same name, Dial M for Murder feels like a story more apt for the stage than the cinema. Sure, it doesn’t have the scale or bravado of Hithcock’s more popular work, but there is an undeniable thrill in watching a scene unfold with little more than the most basic tools at the director’s disposal. A camera. A cast. And a story.

My Hitchcock favorite would eventually be replaced by another one-location thriller, Rope (1948). It’s more thematically ambitious and morbid than Dial M for Murder but carries the same narrative efficiency.

Storytelling was always in Hitchcock’s blood. But compared to his more prestigious work, it’s his smaller, more intimate films that prove it. He is the Master of Suspense after all.

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