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Dial M For Murder... in 3D! (coming back to NYC in June!) Some thoughts from last summer's showing...

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#1 of 10 OFFLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted June 10 2011 - 09:33 AM

"Dial M For Murder" returns to the Film Forum in NYC in 3-D for one week only, June 17-23rd.  (Last year, all of the showings sold out, so if you're thinking about going I highly recommend buying your tickets through their website in advance.)  I was fortunate enough to see it last summer, and with the occasion of it returning, it seemed a good moment to share some thoughts about the experience I had written down at the time:

In the case of “Dial M For Murder”, getting to see the film in 3-D is an exceptionally rare treat.  Alfred Hitchcock hated working in 3-D, had to be forced kicking and screaming into doing it, and (here’s the part where the gods of irony couldn’t script things better) by the time the movie was ready to be released, the 3-D craze had all but died out.  It premiered in a handful of theaters, maybe three or four, in 3-D, but for all intents and purposes, it really was never screened as it was shot.

Hitchcock may have hated the process, may have hated every moment of working on it, but despite that, he made one of the best 3-D films ever.  I had always suspected it would play that well in 3-D, but until this afternoon, I didn’t know for sure.  In a way, it’s a perfect film for both 3-D and for Hitchcock’s style.  Based on a stage play that took place on a single set, it might not sound like the most likely of choices, but I think that’s what makes it work.  Hitchcock restrains from the gimmicky uses; nothing is thrown at the screen or meant to assault us in our seats.  Rather, the 3-D camera allows us to feel like voyeurs in this couple’s home.  Often positioned behind tables, chairs, lamps, etc., the photography gives you the sense of being present for the action.  In some scenes, particularly in the beginning, it’s positioned in a way that we feel like we’re in this couple’s home, sharing a drink with them.  It’s only as the film progresses and becomes more menacing that the camera starts “hiding” us behind things, as if we’re creeping in someplace we shouldn’t be, much like the intruder that will be hired to take Grace Kelly’s life.

In fact, the scene where the intruder makes his attempt on Grace Kelly’s life is the one time that Hitchcock uses 3-D in that “in your face” fashion — for only one shot, for only one moment.  As Grace and the intruder struggle on top of the desk (in a scene that must’ve seemed horrifically violent in 1954), she reaches out her arm behind her head, into the air, and towards us — a victim in trouble, reaching out for help.  We feel so close to her, and yet she stays just out of reach, enough for us to feel the terrible violence she’s being subjected to and the tension of not being able to do anything about it — she’s so close, reaching out for help, and we can’t save her.  And then, almost out of nowhere, her hand finds a pair of scissors, and she stabs her assailant in the back, her hand returning into the depths of the screen.  It’s a startling use of 3-D that’s so effective because it’s done only once in the film, and by the time that shot happens, we’ve been sitting watching a movie with enormous depth (like peering through a window), that we don’t expect anything to come out at us.

A lessor director might not have been daring enough to use the exaggerated 3-D technique in only one shot; a lessor director might not have been able to keep the studio from interfering in the production and keeping the “in your face” stuff out.  But Hitchcock’s usage was masterful, and there’s no arguing that he got it just right.

(As a sidenote, the technical quality of the presentation was outstanding.  There was little, if any, “ghosting” of the image, with the 3-D effect working seamlessly.  The screen becomes a window, and it really does feel as if we’re watching a stage play, as opposed to a movie.  The illusion of depth is completely convincing.  The only detraction from the experience, and this is a minor one and not a real complaint, was that the prints were somewhat old and worn.  That meant that the left and right eyes had uneven scratches and dirtmarks on occasions, that might for the briefest of moments seem a little weird.  But a pristine print may no longer exist, and the Film Forum cannot be faulted for this.  Furthermore, it definitely didn’t ruin the experience — I’m just saying, it wasn’t perfectly clean like “Avatar” — and that’s okay.)

edit: one really cool thing about the Film Forum's presentation of 3-D films... they don't charge a single penny extra for the ticket.

#2 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted June 10 2011 - 09:38 AM

Very cool!  I wonder if a 3D Blu-ray release isn't far behind?

#3 of 10 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted June 10 2011 - 10:03 AM

I saw it in 3D at the Redford Theater in Detroit a year or so ago.  It was a lot of fun.  Definitely catch it if you can.
Ken McAlinden
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#4 of 10 OFFLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted June 10 2011 - 10:33 AM

Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich 

Very cool!  I wonder if a 3D Blu-ray release isn't far behind?

I don't know if Warner is working on a 3D Blu, but I'm pretty sure the screening can't be taken as an indication of it one way or the other.  Last summer, Film Forum did a classic 3D film festival for a few weeks, and they got their hands on everything that they could, from the popular Dial M and House of Wax, to rarer stuff like Inferno, and even a couple 3D Three Stooges shorts.  Dial M coming back this summer was in response to the overwhelming demand last summer, according to the programmer speaking at a members-only brunch earlier in the year.

(I'm putting off buying a 3D TV as long as possible... recession and all... but the day Dial M and House Of Wax and other movies from that period get announced, the harder it will be to hold back.)

#5 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted June 10 2011 - 02:21 PM

Back in college, I saw a 3D print at the Coolidge Corner theater in Brookline, Mass. It was a lot of fun, even though the 3D was pretty pointless -- although it gave the film depth and made the set for the living room of the set feel a little less stagnant. The print I saw was pretty banged up, and the neat thing is that the scratches and dirt seemed to float in front of the picture. The main thing I remember, other than the Grace Kelly attack scene, is John Williams giving one of the all time great character actor performances as Chief Inspector Hubbard. What a delightful character.

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted June 10 2011 - 02:50 PM

I love the Coolidge - I went to college up there too and saw many great things there both during and after college.  Including, it's worth mentioning, the "final cut" of Blade Runner in 35mm a couple months before the DVD set came out.  That's an awesome place and I do miss it. John Williams just totally makes the second act of Dial M.

#7 of 10 OFFLINE   Cassy_w


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Posted June 11 2011 - 12:04 AM

It was a fun time and i enjoyed it when they showed it, but that screen is small. Really small. Really really small.
Death to PG-13! And now death to DVNR too!!

#8 of 10 OFFLINE   Lord Dalek

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Posted June 17 2011 - 07:27 AM

This was in anaglyph originally correct?

#9 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted June 17 2011 - 04:48 PM

^ No, dual strip polarized 3-D. The anaglyph version was the 1982 rerelease.

#10 of 10 OFFLINE   cracker



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Posted September 21 2011 - 12:33 AM

A follow-up on a couple things... I just saw this last night in Portland, Oregon (Lord Dalek, I see you are from Portland. Was at Cinema 21) and, while it wasn't my first time seeing it in 3D, I did notice a few things. First off, of course it was great. I've owned it on DVD for years (a few times, actually. damn box sets), which I literally watch at least once a month. Sometimes just putting it on repeat in the background and running all day. (I should add that I often do that with movies. It isn't just Dial M) so each time I see it is playing on the big screen, I'm there. On the negative side, I have to admit that I think 3D is the most pathetic garbage gimmick ever and am disgusted everytime I see a new movie coming out with it. It's.... unacceptable, and we HAVE to stop supporting this worthless trash. Heh, think anyone will trust my opinion after that? I feel confident that the prints I have seen both time of the 3D version were either the exact same one, or of comparable quality. They were decent enough, but pretty dirty. Lots of noise and in one scene early in the movie, there was an obvious splice between two different versions, which had different color timings done. Nothing major, and didn't change anything, but definitely noticable. Also, the sound was horrendous. Then again, I was in a, more or less, 1 screen art house, which while I love the place, doesn't get updated much. Now, i'm not a big fan of sound as it is (I always keep closed captioning turned on all day, every day, on every TV), so maybe I am just picky, but the people I was with, they agreed. It was just set really bad. Could have been the print, could have been the venue. And, the aforementioned dirt and noise was through the whole thing, pretty heavy at 2 or 3 specific points. As for the 3D effect, I agree with the initial review that started this thread, for the most part, but with some differences. For me, personally, it is almost all amazingly well done, once you get that short adjustment period needed for the polarized effect out of the way. But, there were 3 very significant things, which I noticed both this time and when I saw it last time: The scissors scene talked about by the original reviewer, it was flat and dead (pardon the pun). No significant 3D effect whatsoever. At least not to the level you know they wanted. Additionally, there are 2 more attempts at a forced 3D effect later in the movie, with the house key going to the lock. It was the attempt at the absolute cliched effect of putting the item directly towards the viewer, described as "'in your face' fashion" - and it failed both times. BIG TIME. Not only was the scene lacking the 3D effect, but it was blurry and just an absolute ugly shot. Now, as you see, I focused a lot on the negatives. There is a reason for this: Future releases. Based on my experience, on the copy/copies of the film I did see, if they wanted to make a 3D home release of this for Blu-Ray (or anything else), they have a lot of work ahead of themselves. The print was really dirty and noisy, and not just the acceptable regular "noise" that films used to, and should have (but now they seem bent on digitally scribbbing all of it away. Taking the life of the film with it.). As I said, there was a very significant splice in the film that would be completely unacceptable for a commercial release. The sound needs to be fixed (assuming it wasn't the venue and/or just me) and some of the softness needs to be pulled back on Grace Kelly late in the film. She started to blur, like she had been over-processed. So, in my opinion, while I would love someone to take the time and money, track down the reference prints and make first level masters, with a film this old, it might be too late to fix it without a lot of work (again, based on the print I saw). But I do have my fingers crossed.

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