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Introduction

Dial 'M' For Murder is one the most enduring of Alfred Hitchcock's films. The cinematography was also reasonably groundbreaking for its time, as it was filmed in 3D. It also spawned a loose remake nearly fifty years after its initial release.

Background/Plot

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland)'s wife Margot (Grace Kelly) is having an affair. Tony knows Margot is having an affair -- but Margot doesn't know that Tony knows. After 'careful' consideration, Tony hires a hitman (Anthony Dawson) to murder his wife. Being extremely thorough, however, he hires a man he's been observing for some time so he can blackmail him into doing the deed.

Tony arranges for Swan (the hitman) to sneak into their apartment while he's out for the evening. He draws attention to the time at dinner to give himself an alibi and phones Margot to get her out of bed. As she answers the phone, Swan attempts to strangle her with a nylon stocking -- but no one had counted on her overpowering her would-be killer. She stabs him with a pair of scissors. After overhearing his plan backfire, Tony reveals that it's him on the other end of the line and promises to come home right away.

Tony and Margot call the police and Margot insists she murdered the man in self-defence. Not wanting his plan to fail, Tony secretly destroys evidence that would prove Margot's innocence and thus frames her for first degree murder (since it looked like Margot had invited Swan to the apartment to kill him).

Margot is arrested and put on trial where she is found guilty and sentenced to death. Mark (Robert Cummings), Margot's illicit lover, suspects something is wrong but can't place what it is. Can he figure out what doesn't 'fit' in time to save Margot -- and will the authorities believe him?

The plot relies heavily on the technique of dramatic irony; the viewers know important plot elements that the characters often don't. This isn't a murder mystery in the conventional sense; the viewers know who's responsible for the crime. The suspense comes from watching the characters figure it out within a limited period of time.

Film

The film was released in 1954 and was based on Frederick Knott's play. It was also one of the first films to be filmed in 3D. Several perspective techniques were also used to increase the three dimensional effect in theatres. The original release was a full-fledged 3D release, complete with 3D glasses. This version didn't last too long, however, and the subsequent release was two dimensional. Renewed interest in the 3D version led to a re-release in the 1980s.

Cast

  • Ray Milland as Tony Wendice
  • Grace Kelly as Margot Wendice
  • Robert Cummings as Mark Halliday
  • John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard
  • Anthony Dawson as C.A. Swan/Captain Lesgate
  • Leo Britt as The Storyteller
  • Patrick Allen as Detective Pearson
  • George Leigh as Detective Williams
  • George Alderson as Detective #1
  • Robin Hughes as Police Sergeant
  • Dial 'M' For Murder's basic plot was the inspiration for the 1998 film A Perfect Murder (with Viggo Mortenson, Gwenyth Paltrow and Michael Douglas). Aside from a husband wanting to have his unfaithful wife murdered, however, the plots aren't too similar. There's no relatively uninvolved third-party hitman here, as Douglas' character approaches Mortenson's character to commit the murder.

    The film remains a classic today, since the acting and directing create (and build throughout the film) a sense of concern for Margot (and make most viewers want to see Tony get what's coming to him).


    Resource:
    Dial 'M' For Murder (1954) http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0046912/ 14 June 04.

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