Dial M for Murder, by Alfred Hitchcock
Dial M for Murder is a 1954 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is highly influenced by the style and vision of the director. Although Hitchcock in one of his interviews dismissed this film, it should not be undervalued due to its utter theatricality, dramatics and interesting visual characteristics and techniques. Dial M for Murder features some of the most distinctive Hitchcock’s approaches and is a faithful and accomplished ecranization of Frederick Knott’s stage play.
When discussing Dial M for Murder, Hitchcock claimed that he had nothing to do with the film: “It was a stage play written for the stage, written by an author. All I had to do was to go in and photograph it” (Gottlieb 297). He also noted that this film simply uses: “cinematic means to tell a story from a stage play” (qtd. in Hall 243). However, according to Hall (243), Dial M for Murder is a film that clearly reveals Hitchcock’s most notorious narrational strategies since the apparent faithfulness to Frederick Knott’s original text allows a clear vision of precisely what elements were added or changed by the director, as well as of the particular cinematic methods used to outline dramatic emphasis and guide the audience’s attention. Moreover, Hall highlights the film’s “undisguised theatricality”. He accentuates Hitchcock’s attempt to explore the possibilities of a deliberately limited setting and discusses the director’s idea that a confined space can be just as cinematic as expansive one. On this matter, Hitchcock said the following: “For the audience, looking at the images, it should be the same as reading the opening paragraphs of a novel or hearing the expositional dialogue of the stage play. You might say that the filmmaker can use a telephone booth pretty much in the same way a novelist uses a blank piece of paper” (Leitch, and Poague 325). Moreover, when arguing that the size of the setting is not crucial for a successful film, Hitchcock added that things are “as important as actors to the writer. They can richly illustrate character” (Gottlieb 214). This approach is apparent in Dial M for Murder, a film that is for the most part set within the four walls, in the apartment of Wendice family.
The film concerns Tony Wendice, a former tennis player, whose inconvenient wife Margot has an affair with an American crime-fiction writer Mark Halliday. Out of the motives of sexual jealousy and personal financial gain, Tony plans perfect crime and blackmails his former university friend, Swann, into murdering Margot. This story forms the social purpose of the film. It is told from the inside, through the eyes and perspectives of the main characters, which reveals another Hitchcock’s characteristic directorial method: the audience response is being manipulated by means of close psychological and emotional identification with the protagonist. In Dial M for Murder, each of the five characters is granted the audience’s allegiance, in varying degrees, at strategic moments.
Since all of the film’s critical action logically takes place in one room, its considerable plot development necessarily evolves from extensive dialogue. Although commanding the audience’s undivided attention for such a continuous dialogue is not easy, Hitchcock’s film fully accomplishes this task. The plot is based on expanded rationalization and presents an abundant mental material, which is rendered on the screen with outstanding visual definition of an ongoing intrigue and developing mood. The drama unfolds in the very appearances of the actors, their dynamic attitudes, small gestures and facial expressions. Dial M for Murder draws suspense out of the most prosaic activities, and such minor actions as a short glance, crossing a room or walking hesitantly around with a cane become major turning points. Moreover, the intellectual basis of the film is very strong. This is illustrated by Tony Wendice’s detailed plan of the murder and the intricate way in which he tricks Swann into executing it. Particular intrigue and allure is added by the conversation Tony has with Mark Halliday regarding the perfect crime. And of course the dutiful Inspector Hubbard, who eventually cracks the case, is another central character in the intellectual scheme of the film. This mental dimension is closely connected to the emotional aspects of Dial M for Murder. The audience witnesses a complex family drama and the mosaic concerns and sentiments of the characters.
Another particular feature of Dial M for Murder is that the film was shot in 3-D. This was due to the demand posed by Warner Brothers studio, and Hitchcock occasionally gave the impression that the ponderousness of such production initially relegated the film to minor status (Leitch, and Poague 325). However, its evident artistic value cannot be overlooked. The cast includes such brilliant actors as Ray Milland (Tony Wendice), Grace Kelly (Margot Mary Wendice), Robert Cummings (Mark Halliday), John Williams (Chief Inspector Hubbard), and Anthony Dawson (Swann). Each of these wonderful actors has been highly accredited for their roles in Dial M for Murder, and Grace Kelly received more central roles in later Hitchcock’s productions.
Despite the fact that Hitchcock tended to disregard Dial M for Murder, the film is widely acknowledged due to its theatricality, dramatics and particular visual characteristics and techniques, which reveal that the limited setting may be highly effectual and even beneficial for a production. Dial M for Murder is an accomplished adaptation of Knott’s stage play, which is commonly regarded as Hollywood classics.