Hitchcock-a-thon: Dial M for Murder (1954)

m

Since his career survived the movement from silent cinema to talkies, Hitchcock had learned the necessity of keeping up with the times. As such, he agreed to shoot his next film in 3D.

Yup, 3D. A brief early ‘50s fad popularised by films liked House of Wax. Unfortunately for Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder was released just as audiences (correctly) realised that 3D was a gimmicky waste of time. Nearly all subsequent re-leases of Dial M have been in faithful, ol’ two dimensions, just like-a Mama used to make. But it does explain why so many shots have awkwardly positioned table lamps in the foreground…

su1

Former tennis player Tony (played by Ray Milland or, if you’re watching it in 3D, a Ray Milland-shaped red and blue blur) learns that his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) has cheated on him with a crime writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). He blackmails an old college pal (Anthony Dawson) into killing his wife and making it look like a burglary. But even the best laid plans can go awry…

From the film’s synopsis, it’s easy to see Dial M as a fusion of Strangers on a Train and Rope. Like Strangers, the plot involves two men discussing the “hypothetical” murder of the other’s wife and like Rope the film is purposefully constructed to increase a sense of theatricality.

But Dial M has enough strengths of its own to set it apart. Ray Milland injects some suave intimidation to his role and, of course, there’s Grace Kelly.

su1

Ah, Grace.

An immediate favourite of Hitchcock; she would star as the leading lady in his next three films. Had she not quit acting two years later at the age of 26, who knows how many more collaborations we might have seen from these two?

She’s great in her Hitchcock debut, playing a more vulnerable role than she would give in Rear Window or To Catch a Thief. Though Margot’s sentiments behind her marital affair are never fully conveyed thanks in part to the casting of ever-bland Robert Cummings as Mark.

su1

And the cat and mouse dialogue, while is tight and sleek, feels almost mechanical in its plotted progression.

Regardless, Dial M for Murder is a gripping mystery that is well worth seeing in any dimension of your choice.

Advertisements

Hitchcock-a-thon: The Manxman (1929)

manx1

Another silent Hitchcock, another love triangle. Once again starring Carl Brisson. Hitchcock later dismissed it as “a very banal picture.” I’m not going to call him wrong about his own movie but…he’s wrong. In my opinion, it’s actually one of his strongest films from the silent era.

Set in a small village on the Isle of Man, Kate (Anny Ondra) promises her love to a chipper fisherman called Pete (Brisson) shortly before he leaves for Africa to make his fortune. While he’s gone he asks his best friend Philip (Malcolm Keen) to take care of her. But a forbidden love starts to blossom and when Pete returns to ask Kate for her hand in marriage, it’s only a matter of time before it all blows up in their faces.

manx3

Until then, she has something else in her face

In many ways, The Manxman feels like a cross between two Hitchcock films: the love triangle story from The Ring mixed with the theme of regretting promises from The Pleasure Garden. But The Manxman is better than both of them.

While, in terms of cinematography, The Ring is still Hitchcock’s greatest ’20s achievement – the characters and story are stronger here. In The Ring the audience were clearly intended to sympathise with ‘One-Round’ Jack; Bob Corby was his obstacle to overcome and Mabel was his prize to be won.

But the lead characters in The Manxman are more nuanced than that. All three of them are likeable and we don’t want anyone to come away hurt, even though it’s almost unavoidable. Ondra is enthralling as Kate, making it impossible not to side with her on any decision she makes. Keen gives an entirely convincing portrayal of a man falling in love despite himself and poor old Pete is so naïve and trusting that he can’t see what’s happening right under his nose.

manx2

Like…RIGHT under his damn nose

The film ends on a beautifully melancholic note and it’s hard to know exactly how we’re meant to feel. As well as these gripping character dynamics we’re also treated to some gorgeous craggy scenery and some niffy love-triangle imagery. My personal favourite is the opening shot of the three-legged Isle of Man flag, setting the location but also introducing the thematic symbolism.

The Manxman is an emotionally engaging film. Compelling, suspenseful and a fitting swansong for Hitchcock’s silent classics.

manx4

Farewell