How’s that for a still?
This scene is the marker for the beginning of the action in Dial “M” for Murder, a film that I think is far too overlooked in the Hitchcock pantheon. When most people hear the name “Alfred Hitchcock,” they tend to think of Rear Window or The Birds–if the person is slightly more versed in classic film, he or she might think of Rebecca or Vertigo. Rarely is Dial “M” for Murder included in the list of “essential” Hitchcock greats, and I think this oversight is massively unfair.
The story is really a brainteaser. When going over the plot here, I’m going to go over the bare basics, because if I told you every single detail, we’d be here all night. The main character (played by Ray Milland) is a cunning, brilliant criminal, who carefully plans every step of his crime to be one step ahead of the people on the other end.
The crime is that of getting rid of his wife (played by Grace Kelly), who had embarked on a secret affair with a crime novelist. His plan included getting an old college buddy over and convincing him to strangle her while he was out, leaving behind absolutely no trace of his ever being there, owing to his elaborate plan. However, he left one potential situation unplanned…
What follows is what can only be described as an elaborate game of “Clue.” A talented detective arrives, who questions everyone at the scene and through a series of circumstances, is convinced by Ray Milland that his wife murdered the man deliberately. Grace Kelly is taken to court, is convicted of murder, and is sentenced to death. The bit in court is brilliant, and features one of the most fantastic uses of color I have ever seen. Grace Kelly says not one word during the whole scene, and yet we FEEL her terror. It’s a real shame that the clip is not available on youtube. Even the still pictures give me goosebumps.
On the day of her execution, though, the detective comes to realize that there is evidence that would clear Grace of her crime. The final sequence is an absolutely brilliant mastery of suspense.
When people ask me my favorite Hitchcock film, I reply with this one and Rebecca. The first time I saw Dial “M” for Murder, I was literally on the edge of my seat the entire time, and when it was over, I wanted to watch the whole thing again. The fascination has not waned, this movie still holds me in rapture every time I see it. If you haven’t, you’re missing out. Given that it’s a major Hitchcock film, it is widely available, and you will be able to find it easily on Netflix or at the movie store.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment of Hitchcock Halloween!