Rarely does 3D demand your attention. Avatar broke the mould; Life of Pi brought heart and beauty to 3D; Dial M for Murder is a master filmmaker ahead of his time. When Alfred Hitchcock directed Dial M for Murder almost 60 years ago, 3D existed. In fact, 3D existed under the guise of stereoscopic as far back as the late 1890’s as experiments in filmmaking determined the future of the medium. 1922 introduced the first 3D feature-film in The Power of Love, but it was 1952 that became the ‘Golden Era’ of 3D in cinema. Hitchcock plays with perspective and toys with the foreground and background so that in 2013, when re-mastered and re-issued at cinemas in a limited release, you are expected to attend. Hitchcock has been temporarily re-born to take part in the 3D craze that has dominated blockbuster cinema – and what an incredible film it truly is.
A small-scale story on a par with Rope and Lifeboat, this is a small cast with murder on their minds. Opening on a couple enjoying breakfast, Mrs Wendice (Grace Kelly) spies an article highlighting the arrival of a boat – cut to a smart gentleman (Robert Cummings) stepping off boat; immediate cut back to the house whereby a gentleman and Mrs Wendice are in a heated embrace. Within a minute, we know the set-up: A woman is having an affair and they are deeply in love – and her husband is unaware. This fast and functional start implies that Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings are to lead the thriller but it is only after they highlight their fear, anxieties and conflicted ideas about how to move forward do we meet Tony Wendice (Ray Milliand), her husband – and the man we hold mixed emotions towards throughout Dial M for Murder. He is a victim to their infidelities but his murderous plan is, shall we say, a little unreasonable as a reaction.
Set almost exclusively within a single flat in Madia Vale, the story plays out over three acts. Tony Wendice explains in exquisite detail the plan to kill his wife and his unwilling accomplice Swann (Anthony Dawson) is slowly drawn into his role to play. This intelligent writing and perfectly placed actions and manouvres exemplify the very best elements of theatre as Mr Wendice wipes down each item within the room and lays white gloves carefully on the side – noting to Swann that, if he does pick up anything, to use the gloves. To make matters more fascinating, Robert Cummings plays Mark Halliday – crime journalist and writer. His insights into what could – or could not – be a perfect murder means that we assume he may work out the plan himself. Instead, Hitchcock paces the film gently so that we are intently listening and trying to work out where the story will go. Wendice has planned it out so well – how will it go wrong? If indeed it does. The genius of Dial M for Murder is how we don’t particularly trust the storyteller himself – as all the characters are despicable to some extent it is not out of the question that everything goes to plan. Hitch knows us better than that.
Originally published for Flickering Myth on 27th July 2013