Dial M for Murder (1954)
“Dial M for Murder” adapted from a successful stage play tells a story of a man who plans a perfect murder of his wife . It was filmed in 3D, and screened briefly in 3D too. Odd fact. Anyway, much like “Rear Window” released in the same year, “Dial M for Murder” is set entirely in a claustrophobic apartment, a challenge that must have appealed to Hitchcock to create suspense with the minimum set pieces, perhaps explaining why Hitchcock was interested to film it in 3D at the first place – to create the maximum depth and interest in a small setting.
Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a retired professional tennis player married to his once fan Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly). His saving is running out. His wife, who once loves and admires him, is now having an affair with another man called Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Mr.Wendice has plotted for years a perfect plan to murder his wife with the reluctant help of his college friend Lesgate. When things go wrong, Wendice derives a plan B. Will he succeed? Will he not?
The suspense is classic Hitchcock. Although the movie lacks the splendid set piece from his later movies or the self-reflection in “Vertigo”, it gets one thing perfectly right – keeping us at the edge of the seat by making us identify with the murderer and take the risk as he does.
The murder is discussed and conducted in a civilized manner. We see two gentlemans catching up the old time back in college. Wendice talks Lesgate into the murder scheme, not with a pointed gun, but with perfect logic and reasoning, which makes perfect sense on paper. We are the insiders, we know perfectly well the next steps. We are told that a perfect murder only exists in a novel, that the real life probabilities are incalculable and hence one small unexpected incident leads to the collapse of a perfect scheme.
A crime is truly suspenseful only when conducted in a lawful society, by seemingly law-abiding gentlemans. The consequence of failure is clear. The line is only crossed when the line is there. We are the participants as much as Wendice or his helper. We are the invisible voyers and partners in crime. That’s class A entertainment – experiencing the psychology of a murderer in a safe black room behind the screen. After all, murder is only fun on paper.