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…
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.
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.
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.