19 April 2010

Review: "Dial M For Murder"

Continuing my trend of watching classic Hollywood films I watched Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film Dial M For Murder, which stars the elegant Grace Kelly. Unfortunately, with a screenplay by Frederick Knott (based on his own stage play), I was expecting much more. Knott wrote the stage play on which the 1967 Audrey Hepburn film Wait Until Dark was based. 1954 was a busy year for Grace Kelly, who appeared in five films, including Alfred Hitchcock's Read Window. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Country Girl. I have always loved Grace Kelly because she was the Princess of Monaco, and it is hard to believe that she is only ranked thirteenth on the American Film Institute's list of top actresses in American cinema. This is, of course, owing to the fact that she only appeared in eleven films and retired from acting at twenty-six. My main complaint with the film is that I had trouble discovering the tension within the film. Dial M For Murder primarily takes place in a single apartment and the claustrophobic atmosphere should have heightened the suspense. Save for the powerful scene immortalized in the film's poster, Dial M For Murder was a sub par thriller that left me wanting more from the actors and the screenplay.

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a former tennis player who retired when his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) complained about his schedule. A year prior Margot began having an affair with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), an American crime novelist. Tony discovered a letter that Mark had written to Margot and after faking the theft of her purse to steal the letter he began blackmailing his wife, expecting her to admit to the affair. Filled with jealousy and greed Tony coerces a college acquaintance, C.J. Swann (Anthony Dawson), to kill Margot and threatens to turn him into the police as the blackmailer if he refuses. The plan works perfectly until Swann attempts to strangle Margot against the bureau and she reaches for a pair of scissors and kills him. Realizing that his plan has been foiled, Tony uses his wife's naiveté to convince the investigator, Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), that Margot lured Swann to the apartment to kill him. Margot is sentenced to death and the only way to save her is to find the truth.

Besides the lack of suspense in Dial M For Murder, I found the performances by Ray Milland and Grace Kelly to be too over the top. Maybe I have trouble believing that a woman who would go to such lengths to have a secret affair would be so subservient to her husband. I also find it hard to believe that so much circumstantial evidence could put a woman in jail and sentence her to death. The film lacked all of the suspense present in Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Swann's murder was tense and thrilling, but this happened halfway into the film and while we should have remained worried about Margot's future it was evident that Mark would defeat Tony and save her. The film was more conversation than anything else and the film failed to live up to my expectations. I feel that Dial M For Murder would have had a more satisfying second act had the focus been on Margot and her state of mind and her discovery that her husband had attempted to murder her and then set her up for the murder of her assailant.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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