Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” (1954) starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, & Robert Cummings

In London, wealthy Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) had an affair w/ an American mystery writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), while her husband/pro tennis player, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), was on tour. Tony quit playing to dedicate more time to his wife and work at a regular job. A year later, Mark arrives from NYC to visit the couple. Margot tells him that she destroyed all his letters, but one was stolen. She was blackmailed, but she had never got that letter back. Tony arrives home and says he needs to finish up a report; he tells Margot and Mark to attend the theater w/o him. Tony calls Capt. Lesgate (AKA Charles Alexander Swann), a man who went to college w/ him. (Sir Alfred Hitchcock can be seen on the left side of the college reunion photo.) When Lesgate arrives, Tony blackmails him to murder Margot, so that he can inherit her money. Tony has a plan, but (of course)- there is no such thing as a perfect crime!

Margot: Do you really believe in the perfect murder?

Mark: Mmm, yes, absolutely. On paper, that is. And I think I could, uh, plan one better than most people; but I doubt if I could carry it out.

Tony: Oh? Why not?

Mark: Well, because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to; and in real life they don’t… always.

The film is adapted from a Broadway play that opened in the Fall of 1952; it ran for 500+ performances. John Williams (who almost steals the movie) and Anthony Dawson re-created their stage roles of Chief Inspector Hubbard and Capt. Lesgate. Hitch wanted Cary Grant in the role of Tony, but Warner Brothers felt that he’d be wrong as a villain (as did the actor himself). Deborah Kerr, Olivia de Havilland, and William Holden were also considered for roles. Hitchcock made a special effort to shoot indoors; only a few shots take place outside the London apt. (which is small, but expensive). The director created a sense of claustrophobia (which we’re familiar w/ in this COVID-19 crisis when quarantining in our homes)!

Kelly wears some great clothes, incl. a gorgeous red evening dress w/ a lace shrug and matching red heels. In the pivotal scene where Margot gets out of bed to answer the phone, she was originally suppose to wear a red velvet robe. Kelly explained to Hitch: “This robe would be perfect in Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, but not something I would wear just to answer the phone.” He then asked her what she would wear; the actress replied: “just a light nightgown.” Hitch agreed to the change, so Margot wears a white nightgown w/ some lace detail.

Dial M for Murder has inspired remakes/re-imaginings, incl. A Perfect Murder (1998) starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen. A Perfect Murder influenced Humraaz (a 2002 Bollywood film). Tony admits that he married for money; however in the movies mentioned above, the wives are the ones who are gold-diggers (as well as unfaithful). Hmmm… I wonder why that change was made? You can watch the film (for free) on YouTube; see link below!

[1] I had forgotten that most if not all of it happens in one single room. The planning of it is a display of extraordinary craftsmanship. Not a lagging moment.

[2] Dial M for Murder succeeds on many levels, and it is largely thanks to some superb dialogue… The cast are a treat. Ray Milland is an absolute gem, extremely sly and dispassionate, yet a character so full of self-assurance that one almost sides with him. Grace Kelly… emanating the poised, beautiful being, that is vulnerable, yet oddly unassailable. And John Williams, as the police detective, is quite wonderful.

[3] …Mr. Hitchcock’s camera dutifully follows everything as the scheme goes along. And, before we realize it, if something starts to go wrong, we become scared and tense.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

For Rom Com Fans: “The Lady Eve” (1941) starring Barbara Stanwyck & Henry Fonda

[1] Practically everyone in the film has (at least) two names: Jean/Eve, Charlie/Hopsie, Muggsy/Murgatroyd/Ambrose, Harry/Colonel Harrington, Pearlie/Sir Alfred and so on. This suggests, quite rightly, that people are complicated complex beings, and that appearances often have nothing to do with reality.

Fonda …it must really take quite a lot of true acting ability to execute the pratfalls that he does without making Charlie such a wimp that you can’t imagine Jean still wanting him at the very end.

[2] …it’s all about sexual gamesmanship, and its tone is both matter-of-fact and dizzyingly playful at the same time.

…a boudoir farce, a slapstick clinic, a cynical dialogue comedy AND a love story of great, soulful heart.

[3] This may have been Henry Fonda’s best comedy part. …Fonda does so well in the part because he plays it absolutely straight. No tongue in cheek, no winks at the audience, Fonda plays it straight and sincere.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Col. Harrington: Don’t be vulgar, Jean. Let us be crooked, but never common.

This screwball comedy was written/directed by Preston Sturges, who wrote for theater/movies, then got into directing after age 40. He wrote the screenplay for Remember the Night (1940) starring Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Returning from a year in Amazon forest studying snakes (his passion), the heir to an ale fortune, Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), meets Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) aboard a ship. Charles (shy/nerdy) is putty in the hands of Jean (who exudes confidence/charm). His street-tough bodyguard, Muggsy (William Demarest), is suspicious of the young woman. Charles and Jean fall in love, but he breaks up w/ her after learning that Jean and her father, Col. Harrington (veteran character actor Charles Coburn), are con-artists!

Jean: You see, Hopsie, you don’t know very much about girls. The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.

Some time later, the Harringtons run into a friend who goes by the name Sir Alfred McGlennon Keith (Eric Blore). His latest con involves cheating millionaires at cards in a uber-rich town in Connecticut, where the Pikes happen to live. Eve gets an idea: taking on the persona of an Englishwoman (Lady Eve Sidwich) who could be Sir Alfred’s niece, and seeking revenge on Charles.

Jean: He isn’t backwards. He’s a scientist.

Sir Alfred: Oh, is that what it is? I knew he was… peculiar.

There are many laughs (thanks to the snappy dialogue and physical comedy); the romance is done very well, too! The opening credits feature a grinning cartoon snake, reminding us of Satan in the Garden or Eden. Even before Charles climbs aboard the ship, Jean drops an apple (representing knowledge) which hits his head. The single ladies checking him out make Charles very uncomfortable, but Jean trips him to get his attention. Everything about Jean- her perfume, high heels, looks, and sparking wit- have a strong effect on Charles. The chemistry between Fonda (who plays his role totally seriously) and Stanwyck (who is good in every role) is electric!

“A Double Life” (1947) starring Ronald Colman, Signe Hasso, Edmond O’Brien, & Shelley Winters

[1] Electrifying suspense, laced with crackling dialogue and melodrama. Winters, in one of her earliest roles, is divine… This film gives new meaning to the phrase “disappearing into a character.”

[2] Milton Krasner’s dark cinematography and Miklos Rozsa’s dissonant score supports George Cukor’s pessimistic direction.

[3] …can an actor get that wrapped up in a role? I heard different things about this. Some actors have admitted taking a role home with them from the theater or movie set. Others have found a role they have to be stimulating, influencing them on a new cause of action regarding their lives or some aspect of life.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Anthony John (Ronald Colman in an Oscar winning role) is a successful/middle-aged/British actor whose life is influenced by the characters he plays. When he’s acting in a comedy, he’s light-hearted and fun to be around. When he’s acting in a tragedy, he becomes brooding and very difficult to handle. That’s the reason why his Swedish ex-wife, Brita (Signe Hasso), divorced him 2 years ago. They still love each other, respectfully work together, but can’t live together. One night, Anthony ends up at a restaurant in Little Italy; he meets a young waitress, Pat (Shelley Winters). He accepts the title role in Shakespeare’s Othello and devotes himself entirely to the challenging part. Anthony begins to suspect that Brita is involved w/ a press agent, Bill (Edmond O’Brien), and grows jealous!

Anthony: You want to know my name- Martin.

Pat: Thank you!

Anthony: Also Ernest and Paul, and Hamlet and Jo and, maybe, Othello. I’m French and Russian and English and Norwegian.

Pat: I got mixed blood too!

The role of Anthony John was written for Laurence Olivier, but he was unavailable when the film went into production. In real life, actor Paul Robeson (the first black actor to star in Othello on Broadway) had just completed the longest run of the play. In the movie, Anthony and Brita act in more than 300 performances of the tragedy; I assumed this was highly unlikely. I learned that most Shakespeare productions on Broadway are lucky to run several months; Richard Burton had a 4 month stint in a 1964 production of Hamlet. Director George Cukor (best-known as a “women’s director”) does a fine job w/ darker subject matter than he usually handles. The script was written by the husband-and-wife team of Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. This talented duo also wrote Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952), which became films starring two iconic actors (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy).

Anthony [narrating]: The part begins to seep into your life, and the battle begins. Reality against imagination.

When an actor has to play an actor, I’m sure it’s a challenge. Colman shows the character’s tortured double personality, using costumes, facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. He reveals what Anthony is going through as himself and as Othello. I esp. liked the witty banter between Anthony and Brita; they seem like a real former couple who turned into close friends. Winters looks sweet, vulnerable, yet also has a bit of toughness; this was her breakout role (after small roles in 20 movies). I learned that she was roommates w/ Marilyn Monroe when they were new to Hollywood. Though they went to a lot of parties, Winters commented that Marilyn always gravitated toward the intellectuals. If you like Shakespeare and film noir (like me), check this unique movie out!

“Fallen Angel” (1945) starring Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, & Linda Darnell

[1] The tainted, ambiguous relationships that Dana Andrews forges… make this film a dark study in romantic pathology. It also features Linda Darnell at her most sultry and mercenary… Andrews’ very layered tension between rich good gal Faye and gold-digging bad girl Darnell keeps the viewer off balance all the way through.

[2] Preminger’s fluid camera work and long takes here reach perfection… Each scene is shot and elaborated with precision, with minimum amount of edits to elucidate the emotions of the characters.

The magnificent chiaroscuro photography by Joseph LaShelle has certain crispness and lucidity…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Stella: What do you do when you don’t tell fortunes?

Eric: I help make ’em for others.

Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) is thrown off a Greyhound bus for not having enough fare to reach San Francisco. With just a dollar in his pocket, he lands in Walton, a small coastal town. Eric goes to a little diner by the beach and meets the owner, Pop (Perry Kilbride), retired NYC cop Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), and young waitress Stella (Linda Darnell- then only 21 y.o.) An “old friend” of Eric’s, Professor Madley (John Carradine- in a brief supporting role), is coming to the local hotel to hold a “spiritual” (psychic) show. Madley’s assistant, Ellis, laments that there may not be a show, since the former mayor’s daughter (a respected leader) disapproves of “spooks.” Eric (“a promoter”) goes to the Mills house to speak w/ this woman, Clara (Anne Revere- a character actress descended from Paul Revere). She’s unimpressed by his words, but her younger sister, June (Alice Faye), later convinces her to support the show. Then the drama begins!

Stella [to Eric on the beach]: You talk different, sure. But you drive just like the rest. Well, you’ve got the wrong girl.

TCM’s Eddie Muller noted that it’s a shame that this film suffered, as it was compared to director Otto Preminger’s previous film- Laura (1944)- which was a big hit. I saw Fallen Angel recently and really enjoyed it! The story comes from a novel written by a young woman (Mary Hallen); she wrote under a male pen name. Preminger (known for his demanding personality) was one of the best directors of his time; he made Angel Face (1953) and Anatomy of a Murder (1954)- two notable noir movies. He used much of the crew from Laura; we also see Dorothy Adams (Laura’s loyal “domestic”) as Stella’s neighbor. Andrews (who played a straight-shooting NYC cop in Laura) didn’t want to do Fallen Angel, as he disliked his character. I thought he did a fine job playing a charming con man (who can be shady or sweet). He and Darnell have terrific chemistry when they banter and are esp. good at playing the romance angle.

Eric [to June after their first date]: No. One kiss goes a long way with you. You need a guy who will take it the same way. Who will give you marriage, with all the trimmings. Home and kids. Who will walk to church with you every Sunday. Save all your good nights for him.

Faye (at age 28 y.o.) was already a big star in Hollywood; this is why she has top billing. After taking a break to start a family, she was very disappointed w/ how 20th Century Fox finally cut this film. Faye left the studio once she saw that her best scenes were edited out. Instead of balancing out the love triangle, producer Daryl Zanuck put the focus more on Eric and Stella; he was involved in a romantic relationship w/ Darnell during filming. Thus, Eric and June’s relationship comes off as rushed. There is a great scene between Andrews and Faye in the third act. You can see the movie (in HD) below!

“I Wake Up Screaming” (1941) starring Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Carole Landis, & Laird Cregar

Vicky: [waiting on Frankie and his friends: Larry Evans- a columnist and Robin Ray- a Broadway actor] Is that all?

Larry: No, but the rest of it isn’t on the menu.

Vicky: You couldn’t afford it if it was.

NYC promoter Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature), being interrogated by police in the death of model Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis), recalls in flashback: meeting her as a waitress in a Times Square diner, Frankie is sure that her beauty will launch her into high society and a modeling career. Frankie succeeds, perhaps too well; after a few months and many magazine covers, Vicky is about to fly to Hollywood for a screen test, when someone kills her! Now, Frankie gets the feeling that a detective, Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar), is determined to frame him for murder. It turns out that he’s right; he seeks out Vicky’s older sister, Jill (Betty Grable), for help.

Jill: [referring to Cornell, who has been watching Vicky outside the diner] He gives me the creeps.

Vicky: You’ll have to get used to that. We’ve got more wolves in New York than they have in Siberia.

Elisha Cook Jr. (the pint-sized actor who became a staple of noir) plays Harry, the clerk at the hotel where the Lynn sisters live. Grable and Landis do look like they could be related. They have different philosophies about life- Jill is humble and practical; Vicky is ambitious and and thinks big. The cops and newspapers assume and Frankie is upset re: being dumped by Vicky (professionally and personally).

TCM’s Eddie Muller explained that this movie (released by 20th C. Fox and originally Hot Spot) is one of the earliest examples of what came to be known as film noir. Screenwriter Dwight Taylor and the source novel’s author, Steve Fisher, wrote the screenplay. The music in this movie is memorable; “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” (from the 1939 hit The Wizard of Oz) is recycled (maybe too much) as Frankie and Jill’s theme. Vicky’s signature tune is a catchy jazz melody. Watch the full movie below!

[1] Bruce Humberstone directs this attractive early noir with a strong sense of visual style. His Director of Photography, Edward Cronjager, works wonders with elongated shadows and labyrinths of lattice.

Her character has psychological depth, and Grable does justice to the part.

Carole Landis… deserves a special mention. She gives a confident performance and sings beautifully.

[2] A formidable, menacing presence, Cregar rocks in the role. His silky voice and charming smile somehow make him even scarier…

Always an appealing presence, Mature was a better actor than he got credit for, making it look easy. He was hot, too…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews