Saturday, June 2, 2012

DIAL M FOR MURDER (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954, USA)

Hitchcock’s sensibility was to make mundane items diabolical instruments of death, to create heart pounding suspense out of the ether of routine: in this case a phone, a pair of stockings, scissors, and a key all hold the answers to a life and death equation. 

The beautiful Grace Kelly stars as Margot, an unfaithful wife whose affair is secretly known to her husband Tony. Having tendered a life insurance policy months before, Tony plots to murder his wife and collect the money. The perfect plan goes awry when Margot miraculously survives but Tony, quick witted and confident, subtly convinces her to lie and sets her up as the murderer! But Margot’s paramour, a mystery writer, unwittingly dissects the crime and reveals the true killer and his criminal intent. Hitchcock smartly decides to keep the pacing tight and the set claustrophobic. He doesn’t dilute the suspense by adding extracurricular settings or dialogue: he confines most of the story to one set (like the original stage play), which allows the audience to concentrate on the clever mystery. 

Early in the film, Margot dresses in bright colors (Grace Kelly is gorgeous in the red dress!) but as the tone darkens so does her wardrobe. Though the film is short at 105 minutes, Hitchcock utilizes an Intermission to split the film in two, which adjourns the adrenaline rush immediately after the murder to the final act. The second half includes a stylized and surreal courtroom drama utilizing oversaturated colors and close-ups. This intensifies the drama because the question isn’t “Who Dunnit?’”…But instead becomes “Will He Get Away With It?” 

The plot has a few glaring flaws: a police investigator would never interview a victim (or suspect) in the presence of the spouse; the police need a Search Warrant to have access to the property (especially the apartment!) of a suspect. Hitchcock commands our attention with every subtle inflection and innocuous revelation, as the plot races towards the final solution at the end of a Hangman’s noose. 

Final Grade: (B)