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

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