Ranked among the American Film Institute’s Top Ten in the mystery genre, Dial M for Murder is a fine film from the master, Alfred Hitchcock. Based on a play broadcast on the BBC, it is the story of a man scorned, who bided his time evolving the perfect plan to murder his cheating wife and sets it into motion when his wife’s lover comes to visit. The carefully designed plan falters but perhaps not enough to expose the architect. Presented in both 2D and 3D, Warner Brothers bows this Golden Age title for film and 3D enthusiasts alike and the results are favorable.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
US Rating: PG
Film Length: 105 Minutes
Video: MPEG-4 AVC 1080P High Definition
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French and Spanish
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Review Date: October 8, 2012
“I should simply say that you came here tonight, half-drunk, and tried to borrow money on the strength that we were at college together. When I refused, you mentioned something about a letter belonging to my wife. As far as I could make out, you were trying to sell it to me. I gave you what money I had, and you gave me the letter. It has your fingerprints on it, remember? Then you said if I went to the police you'd tell some crazy story about my wanting you to murder my wife. Before you go any further, old boy, do consider the inconvenience. You see, I'm quite well known, and there'd be pictures of you as well. And sooner or later there'd be a deputation of landladies and lodgers who would step forward and testify as to your character. And someone is almost certain to have seen you with Miss Wallace. You were careful not to be seen around with her, I noticed. You usually met in out-of-the-way places where you wouldn't be recognized.”
4 / 5
Tony Wendice, an ex-tennis pro aware of his wife Margot’s adulterous relationship, unveils his meticulously planned plot to kill his wife to Charles Swann, a shady character whom Tony knew from his college days. Every detail thought through and expressed with surprising detachment, Tony essentially entices and blackmails his former acquaintance to pull off the ‘perfect crime’. Margot is a sympathetic character. A lady seemingly torn between her love of Mark Halliday, an American crime author, and the man she married. When Halliday visits the Wendice’s for the weekend, the plot is put into motion.
At one point in the film, after saying that his career as a crime writer would give him the greater chance of pulling of the perfect crime, he concedes that the perfect murder is an impossible pursuit. Regardless of best laid plans, he says, something will always go askew. It is a foreshadowing of what we will witness; what will drive the suspense during the murder attempt and the aftermath. It’s a terrific moment.
Performances are solid across the board with Ray Milland’s commanding performance as Tony Wendice standing out. A curious duplicity is in abundance for these characters, and besides his steely detachment, Milland pulls some sympathy from the audience for his hurt. Grace Kelly is lovely as the unaware wife whose life hangs in the balance at multiple turns throughout the film. She is graceful and vulnerable, never suspecting the maliciousness of her soft-spoken husband. Robert Cummings portrayal as the almost nondescript lover, Mark Halliday, is suitable. A likeable character despite being ‘the other man’, his wide-eyed blissful blindness to Milland’s calculating underhandedness serves the story well enough. The primary investigator, Chief Inspector Hubbard, is played by John Williams in a role which he recreated onscreen following his Tony award winning turn.
Dial M for Murder is delightful Hitchcock, often unfairly dismissed as pedestrian, with a methodical unfolding (or unraveling) of events, mixed expertly with pithy dialogue and tense moments fitting a Hitchcock affair. What it lacks in immediacy and scope it makes up for in intimacy and skill, becoming more intense and interesting as it progresses. Filmed using 3D during the waning days of its popularity, theaters would mostly project the film flat (2D), a shame if for no other reason than the superb attempted murder sequence as Grace Kelly struggles for her life, stretching her hand out desperately for the means to strike back at her attacker. Powerful in 2D it is breathtaking in 3D.
Warner Bros’ presentation of Dial M for Murder in High Definition, framed at 1.85:1 and in 3D for the first time, is good. The colors on display are gorgeous and for a generous portion of the running time, detail is very good and grain intact. Not the most stellar HD presentation of a Hitchcock classic available on Blu-ray, but certainly a most-welcome entry. A few scenes are notably soft and rear projection effects in the film are revealing of the most issues (quite out of place with the projected images being quite poor). Additionally, there are some scenes that show off an odd ringing or halo effect around characters. Research indicates that this effect is inherent to the film stock and not the transfer. Fair enough. But it will raise some questions for viewers not as forgiving or as knowledgeable of such things, so it is good to be prepared.
As Robert Harris points out in his incredibly and perpetually invaluable “A Few Words About…” thread discussing WB’s release, Dial M for Murder has been cleaned up and presented faithfully for us, though the 3D runs a hair dark. Mr. Harris notes that projected, the 3D doesn’t hold up well but on a panel display does better. I viewed Dial M for Murder on my Mitsubishi WD-73738 73-Inch 3D DLP HDTV, a rig that has given me no issues with 3D viewing. So how is the 3D?
My exposure to 3D began in theaters with films like Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare Not the most noble of beginnings. But ever since Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf seriously impressed me back in 2007, I felt the advent of 3D had a genuine shot at a second coming. Dial M for Murder then presented me with an opportunity to explore golden age 3D of which I have heard a great deal from HTF’s resident 3D guru, Bob Furmanek and other enthusiasts on the site. Hitchcock employs a number of low angle shots and foreground objects to give a sense of depth in a scene. Given the majority of the film takes place in and around the upscale London apartment (save for a single scene and the odd outside rear-projection shot as I recall), Hitchcock makes good spacial decisions, generally, and aside from the obvious placement of lamps and such as the camera moves around dialogue heavy scenes, it is subtly achieved.
Dial M for Murder is a patient film, carefully descending into the murderous plot, shocking with the attack itself and descending further into the tense aftermath of whether Mr. Wendice will get away with his plot and improvisations. Aside from the title sequence where the credits protrude from the screen considerably, the attempt of Margot Wendice’s life is the most striking example of 3D in the film. Fingers stretching out toward theaudience in frantic desperation produce a chilling effect, accentuated more by the dimensional film technique. The 3D here is good. The setting doesn’t provide for a varied expression of 3D, but it is effective nonetheless and holds the promise for us fans of 3D that the Golden Age has more great releases to offer. Take note, studios; we’re thirsty for the good stuff regardless of its decade.
Warner provides Dial M for Murder with a DTS HD Master Audio English 1.0 soundtrack. The audio is clean, problem free and consistent. The score, composed and conducted by the great Dimitri Tiomkin, is surprisingly melodic and warm given the story’s darker undertones, but it is nicely produced here. Overall the audio works well.
Documentary: Hitchcock and Dial M (22:00): Fans in the business (M. Night Shyamalan, Peter Bogdanovich) talk about Hitchcock and the film favorably.
Though Dial M is at its core a slice of the darkness of a man’s soul and the duplicity of exchanges between a slighted man and his torn but cheating wife, it is entirely too polite to reflect the true darkness of murderous intent. But that’s okay. Born from a popular stage play, it retains a somewhat claustrophobic feel even within the apartment made evermore spacious by the use of 3D and shows strokes of brilliance in both performance and Hitchcock’s appreciation for the material. Remade most recently as 1998’s A Perfect Murder starring Michael Douglas, Viggo Mortensen and Gwyneth Paltrow, that updated version only serves to show just how good Hitchcock’s film really is. The 3D in Dial M for Murder won’t knock your socks off but it will provide a good story with visual depth in a relatively confined space. 2D or 3D though, the film is certainly worth your time.
Overall (Not an average)