Unassuming in its brilliance,
Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) is an ingenious thriller too often overlooked. Released the same year that gave us is no less a great Hitchcock film than the Rear Window, Dial M Jimmy Stewart vehicle that followed it, if only for the reason that its intricate drama also plays out pitch perfectly in one room. Ray Milland is Tony Wendice, a devious and jealous (though sympathetic) sophisticate who, we learn early on, has palns for the "perfect murder" of his rich and lovely (though unfaithful) wife, Margot, played by Grace Kelly. The film's first act breaks murder mystery laws to detail precisely how the act should be played out; but Wendice's plan fails to anticipate Margot's ability to defend herself, and only the man assigned to kill her winds up dead. From there the story is a pure joy of Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse, as Margot's lover, Mark ( Robert Cummings), and Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) each become more and more involved in the resulting investigation, while Wendice maneuvers to frame his wife for murder. Adapted by Frederick Knott from his popular stage play, Dial M appears simple: There are some fantastic performances, particularly by Milland, and the movie feels very much like a play, devoid of Hitch's filmic flare. But great subtleties are at work. Even in the film's stagy environs, it never feels claustrophobic -- unlike Rear Window, which did and was supposed to -- and the suspense created by Hitchcock's mastery of visual language is, as usual, undeniable. Additionally, the movie succumbed to the trends of its times and was ordered to be shot in 3-D -- yes, the kind you watch with red-and-blue glasses. Nonetheless, in Dial M objects don't fly toward the audience as they do in a more kitschy flick like House of Wax. Instead, Hitchcock saves his gimmickry for a few key moments, using 3-D's shock value as, well, shock value rather than showy effect. The result serves the story in the classiest of ways, so that the movie plays equally well in its traditional 2-D. (The DVD releases here, sadly, are not offered in 3-D.) Though not as grandiose a Hitch outing as the later or North by Northwest holds firm ground and deserves to be seen alongside the artist's other, hallowed masterpieces. Psycho, Dial M for Murder
Barnes & Noble - Tony Nigro
Alfred's Hitchcock's adaptation of Frederick Knott's play is hardly the director at his best, though it remains an above-average suspense-melodrama with a typically Hitchcockian villain. It focuses on the efforts of Ray Milland's character, an idler who fears that his wealthy wife might leave him and wants her murdered so that he might inherit her money. The machinery of the play is standard but enjoyable in its tight construction, with only the business of the key being of dubious plausibility. Its most compelling element is Milland's character, who has shades of Cary Grant in
Suspicion (1941) and Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train (1951). Most memorable is an ugly scene in which he blackmails an old "friend" into agreeing to kill his wife, played by Grace Kelly. Milland is near the top of his game here, and John Williams turns in his usual fine performance as the wily Scotland Yard inspector. Kelly, and Robert Cummings as her lover, are forced to contend with underwritten stock characters. Neither comes off particularly well.
All Movie Guide - Michael Costello