Phoning It In: Dial M for Murder

Grace Kelly was an up and coming Hollywood starlet who chose the good life of being Monegasque royalty over the glamor of being Hollywood royalty. But in the pre-history of becoming Princess Grace of Monaco, Kelly made several prominent pictures for Hollywood. In only her second film she soared to fame as the wife of Gary Cooper‘s Marshal Kane in High Noon. From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to being one of Alfred Hitchcock‘s favorite leading women, starring in not one, not two, but three of Hitch’s films in the space of two years. In succession from 1954, Hitchcock filmed Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief, all of which featured Kelly as his leading lady.

Arguably the most well known of these was her role as Jimmy Stewart‘s girlfriend in Rear Window, but she excels in all three roles. In Dial M for Murder, Kelly plays the wife of a former tennis player, Tony Wendice.

(Just a side note: I wonder what Alfred Hitchcock had against tennis players. The villain in this movie; a former tennis player. In Strangers on a Train, one of the main characters is a tennis player. I’m not entirely sure, but I would be willing to bet that either of the two villains in Rope played tennis. Tennis players cropped up in Hitch’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, too. Could it be that at some point in his life, he had been jilted by a former lover who left him for a tennis pro?)

Did you know Dial M for Murder was originally filmed in 3D? It was. This accounts for some of the odd angles that the film has. The movie was shown in it’s 3D format during the first few days of it’s original theatrical run, but played to low numbers of audiences, so a hasty decision was made to throw out the 3D format and just run it in it’s regular form. Both were available. The standard version was given to theaters without the ability to show 3D movies. After the debacle at 3D movie theaters, they all used the flat form instead. I wonder if someone had spiked Hitch’s drinks to get him to agree to film a 3D movie? It certainly doesn’t seem like his themes would lend themselves to that format. At rny rate, the 3D craze was already dying out by this time, anyway.

Dial M for Murder (1954):

There are two kinds of marriages. One is a happy marriage where the two spouses are in love with each other, no matter what comes their way. In a Hitchcock film, this would be tantamount to disaster. After all, who would get interested in a suspense film where everything was hunky-dory?

In the Wendice household, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) has become aware that his marriage to Margot (Grace Kelly) has been falling apart for some time. It seems Margot has been carrying on an affair with an American crime novelist, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Divorce is not an option for Tony. He married money. If he divorced Margot, he would be out of the house, but also out of money. So he devises a plan to murder his wife, thus insuring that he keeps his extravagant lifestyle going. To that effect, he blackmails a former college class mate, C. A. Swann (Anthony Dawson), to commit the murder. Tony has some information on Swann’s activities that he threatens to reveal if Swann does not agree.

Tony arranges an alibi for himself and leaves a key to the apartment for Swann to use. He then arranges an elaborate ruse which involves him, Tony, calling home to arouse his wife out of bed so Swann can strangle her while she is on the phone. Unfortunately for Swann, Margot is not willing to go gently into that good night. She ends up stabbing Swann with a pair of scissors.

Now, instead of having a dead wife, Tony has a dead would-be murderer on his hands. And he must somehow deal with the presence of the man in his apartment. Of course, the police are called and the situation develops as how to resolve the situation. Tony uses every wiles available to try to avoid his complicity in the event, and as a result, Margot is arrested because she apparently killed Swann because he was blackmailing her for her affair with Mark.

In reality, it was Tony who was blackmailing her. He of course knew about the affair, hence the reason he wanted to murder his wife, rather than divorce her. The police inspector investigating the story, Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), initially believes that Margot is guilty and she is convicted and sentenced to die. But he becomes suspicious, and during his subsequent investigations becomes convinced that Tony had something to do with it. But how to break down Tony’s alibi?

Thus the final reel becomes a battle of wits.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.

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