Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson
Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  Documentary, Trailer, 3D History
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  September 7, 2004

“Do you really believe in the perfect murder?”

Film ***1/2

What does a prolific film director do when he finds himself running low on ideas?  Alfred Hitchcock’s solution was to find a terrific play and film it; simply and directly.

Dial M For Murder was such a play…a hit live performance that gave the Master of Suspense just the diabolical plot he needed to bring a vision of mystery and murder to the screen.  It’s not as stylish as some of his master works, but as he himself said, he had good material to work with…no need to embellish it for the sake of style.

It begins with a love triangle.  Margot (Kelly) is married to Tony (Milland), but having a secret affair with Mark (Cummings).  One of Mark’s letters to her turned up missing from her handbag, followed by anonymous blackmail notes.  The lovers fear they can’t keep their secret much longer.

But it turns out blackmail is the least of their worries.  Tony, a one time tennis star who has found himself living largely on his wife’s money, plans the perfect murder for her, using a financially needy old college chum (Dawson) as the perpetrator.  His plan is painstaking and foolproof; nothing could possibly go wrong.  Which, in the case of mystery stories, is always the surest bet something will.

The first 45 minutes are a splendid look at the intricate planning of the murder, culminating with what should have been the execution of it.  But things don’t go as planned, leaving Tony scrambling for another solution to his problem.  His diabolical quick thinking leaves us wondering at first what he hopes to accomplish, but we slowly see the dastardliness of his vision unfold, and the second half of the movie shows his second plan in action, while leaving us to wonder if he’s really going to get away with it all.

When the picture came out in 1954, cinema was trying out new ways to win back their audiences from television.  One was widescreen, another was 3D technology.  When Hitchcock set out to make his film from Frederick Knott’s play, he decided to go the 3D route.  Only instead of using cheap shocking “coming at you” effects, he decided to employ 3D to help craft the illusion of a live performance.  Foreground objects like tables or bottles or fences were often placed between the audience and the actors…those viewing the movie would feel more like they were watching a theatrical production instead of a motion picture.

But by the time the film hit theatres, 3D popularity was already waning, and soon a traditional flat screen presentation was ushered in.  Before they closed the Hitchcock exhibit at Universal Studios, fans could go and see the famous murder scene in the original 3D format, but now, unless that technology is revisited for DVD, the traditional way is the only way we can experience the film.

On the one hand, it’s difficult to elevate Dial M For Murder to the ranks of Hitchcock’s truly original and influential masterpieces like Psycho, Strangers on a Train or Vertigo.  But then again, the sheer entertainment value of this movie is undeniable.  Audiences have tended to lean forward in their seats, hanging on every plot point and twist.  The well-paced thriller never lags, and works its way through the turns towards a satisfying conclusion.

Every artist pounds out an occasional piece of work just for the fun of it.  Dial M For Murder may not be vintage Hitchcock, but it’s still a dynamite piece of entertainment that remains a solid crowd pleaser after 50 years.  And like most of Hitch’s films, you won’t be able to turn it off once it starts.

Video ***1/2

This classic film, shot in “Warnercolor”, has held up beautifully over the years, and the full frame DVD transfer is lovely to look at.  Colors are rich and vibrant throughout, and the cleanness of the print helps the digital rendering to come across as smooth and clear.  One or two instances of noticeable grain abound, but that’s hardly a complaint considering the source material is half a century old.  Nicely done.

Audio **

As with most original mono tracks, this offering is serviceable if not exemplary.  Spoken words are clean and clear, background noise is minimal, dynamic range somewhat level.

Features **

There is a short documentary on the film, plus a brief look at the history of 3D and the original trailer.


Dial M For Murder is a juicy mystery thriller that may not be in the top ranks of Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography, but is still a solid and enthralling piece of filmed entertainment that will keep you hooked for the long haul.

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