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Warner Home Video presents

Dial M For Murder (1954)

"Do you really believe in the perfect murder?"- Margot (Grace Kelly)

Stars: Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings
Other Stars: John Williams, Anthony Dawson
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: PG for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:45m:12s
Release Date: 2004-09-07
Genre: suspense thriller

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Style
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Substance
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Image Transfer
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Audio Transfer
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Extras
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A ABB B+

 

DVD Review

In what was a kind of departure for Alfred Hitchcock, 1954's Dial M for Murder had the director taking Frederick Knott's successful play—essentially all occurring in one location—and turning it all into a rapt piece of drawingroom suspense and mystery that wasn't so much about whodunit as about how "whodunit" was going to get caught, if at all. The fact that Hitchcock didn't broaden the filmed adaptation and try to make the final product more cinematic is, in hindsight, what really makes this tightly wound and claustrophobic mystery in reverse, without the gimmickry of Rope.

Originally shot and released in 3D, in part to capitalize on the mid-1950s craze of unusual hooks designed to lure audiences into movie theaters, Dial M for Murder still manages to hold up remarkably taut when viewed in standard 2D mode. This Warner release forsakes the gratuitous 3D process, and while I would love the chance to see Grace Kelly's wrigglin' fingers reaching out of the screen towards me, there isn't a moment during the entire film when I caught myself thinking "this is a scene build for 3D." Because the techniques Hitchcock employed to give dimensional depth—things like lamps and liquor bottles in the foreground—are so subtle, watching the film today, minus the headache-inducing glasses, is not the typical kind of distraction onewould find with most "flattened" versions of films shot in 3D. The odd angles and camera placement are Hitchcock's own indelible fingerprint that forces an astute viewer to sit up and wonder where his directorial eye was supposed to be leading them.

In this chatty and talkative (largely) one-room thriller, properly British former tennis star Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) suspects his English wife Margot (Grace Kelly) of being unfaithful with American mystery writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Tony's suspicions are far from unfounded, as the first two minutes of the film feature Kelly's supposedly happily married Margot locking lips with not just with Milland, but Cummings as well, and her switch to a flaming red dress for her marital indiscretions only seals her fate as a fire-loined two-timer. But this is a drawingroom mystery at its core, and Milland's Tony—deceptive fellow that he is—blackmails an old college chum (Tony Dawson) into murdering Margot, having seemingly planned things out to a "T". It's not much of a mystery if things go well, and as the perfect crime turns out to be far from perfect, an eagle-eyed inspector (John Williams) enters the scene to put the pieces together to perhaps save poor Margot from the gallows.

As Margot, Grace Kelly, ridiculously gorgeous and ageless screen goddess that she is, sadly plays a whipped pup who seemingly wouldn't go to the bathroom without the permission of Milland's Tony. The fact that she's randy with Mark Halliday seems so out of character for her—to say nothing of Mark's remarkable blandness—that the whole infidelity premise is just an excuse to give Milland room to work. He is really where it's at here, and moments like his beautifully manipulative scene where he draws Tony Dawson into the plot to murder Margot, is brilliant, evil, and so well planned that you have to wonder why things end up going so horribly wrong.

I first saw Dial M for Murder when I was about 11—way back when—and during a particularly pivotal sequence involving an unfortunate character's death, the scene was so etched in my mind's eye that I could literally never shake the image. It would rattle around in my head from time to time over the following decades, and it came to be one of those laser-burned memories that would forever connect a film with a brief single scene.

As a kid that moment was what Dial M for Murder was all about, but in the years following when I would catch a late night showing I came to realize that Hitchcock had done more than just build a film around one fateful moment that, as an 11-year-old, I had somehow glommed onto and turned into a significant movie moment that would stay with me forever. Ray Milland, as the spurned, almost sympathetic husband, it turns out, is wonderfully oily and likeable at the same time, and John Williams was probably one of the most unexpected geniuses to rise out of a who-killed-who tale in a long time.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1.33:1, the transfer for Dial M For Murder has that slightly artificial and overly cranked 1950s coloring, but the print itself is free of any major flaws, save a few age-related specks. Fleshtones are luminous, to the point of almost being overdone, but Grace Kelly looks smashing regardless.

Nice, especially on a 50-year-old film.

Image Transfer Grade: B
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in a fair English language mono track—with some age-induced flatness, but nothing overtly distracting.

A French language mono track is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There's a couple of nice Laurent Bouzereau bonuses on this release, starting off with Hitchcock and Dial M (21m:25s). Featuring comments from Peter Bogdanavich, M. Night Shyamalan, Robert Osborne, and Richard Franklin, this above average piece uses film footage, memories, and a bit of history to elaborate on the impact of this film. 3D: A Brief History (07m:01s) seems assembled from leftover bits from the other doc, but adds input from Jaws 3D director Joe Alves, too. There's a brief explanation of the whole 3D campaign, and how Hitchcock used less to make more, as well as the whole thing about the oversized phone and the fake finger. Well done stuff!

In addition to a theatrical trailer, the disc is cut into 28 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English, French, or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B+
 

Final Comments

Probably more chatty than a typical Hitchcock film, this stage play adaptation features a charmingly sinister performance from Ray Milland battling the rapier mind of steely inspector John Williams. The loss of this film's 3-D presentation is a moderate shame, as far as cinematic history go, but the story is layered expertly.

Highly recommended.

Rich Rosell 2004-09-06