Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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Dial M for Murder

While doing the right thing is important in real life; in regards to the world of cinema, sometimes things would be better if the villain won. This is the case with Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, a film that would have been more satisfying had the scoundrel rode off into the sunset.

Margot (Grace Kelly) has been having an on and off affair with an American writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), while her tennis player husband, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), was away. Now that Tony has given up the tennis life for good, Margot decides to put the put the relationship with mark to rest. The past comes back to haunt her when a love note that Mark wrote during their affair is stolen, and Margot is blackmailed via a series of anonymous letters. Little does Margot know that this is all part of Tony’s plan. After discovering that his wife cheated on him, Tony has devised the perfect murder for his revenge. Tony blackmails Captain Lesgate, a shady character from Tony’s past, to commit the murder. Tony is confident his plan is flawless but he soon learns that there is no such thing as the perfect murder.

Dial M for Murder is a film that works slightly better as a play than a feature. Although it is entertainingly suspenseful, the last act of the film really irked me a bit. I think my minor squabble with the film is directly linked to the characters of Mark and Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams). I found Mark to be rather annoying in the last half of the film. He goes from being the quiet “other man” who has been instructed by Margot not to say anything of their affair to Tony, to the guy who thinks he is in charge of everything. This is evident in the scene where Mark tries to convince Tony to make a false confession to save Margot. Mark essentially demands Tony to sacrifice himself so that Mark and Margot can live happily ever after. Mark’s assertiveness, not to mention his writer’s mindset, comes way too late in the film. His pleas should have come far before the trial even started.

The same must be said for Chief Inspector Hubbard’s sting operation. The whole final act is played out based on Hubbard’s hunch. At no point during the lengthy investigation does the answer occur to him. Yet just as one of the characters in Dial M for Murder is about to reach a critical juncture, he magically orchestrates his elaborate trap.

Despite qualms with the last act, the first two thirds of Dial M for Murder are wonderfully anchored by Ray Milland’s tantalizing performance. The film really jumps alive every time Milland is on screen. One of the best scenes in the film comes when Tony is implementing his plans to blackmail Captain Lesgate. Everything Tony does in that scene from walking with a cane to pointing out an old photo of when Lesgate was known as Alexander Swann, is calculated. It is a pleasure to watch Milland disarm Lesgate by systematically exposing one of his secrets. Ray Milland is so good in the film that I actually wish the ending had worked out in his favour.

Dial M for Murder may not be as strong as other Alfred Hitchcock films, but Ray Milland’s performance is reason enough to watch the film.

Alfred Hitchcock is the subject of this month’s LAMBs in the Director Chair series over at The LAMB website

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you: Ray Milland IS the movie. My favorite scene is where his carefully crafted plan starts to go astray, but he is The Man, and not only keeps his cool, but improvises on the fly so well it might have even been better than his original plan.


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