Splatter Time Fun Fest 2014: Dial M For Murder (1954)

dial m for murder

And the blonde with no charisma rears her head yet again!

Screenplay By: Frederick Knott
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Oh Grace Kelly, why does everyone love you so? I really don’t get it, every time I watch a movie with her in it I think I must have missed the memo that says, “All cinephiles must love Grace Kelly!” She’s fake and plastic, devoid of any emotion. She’s attractive sure, but she’s not exactly what I would call a knockout. She has no charisma and every time she is on screen she sucks all the energy out of the film. I once compared her to January Jones, and it’s an apt comparison, Grace Kelly was January Jones before January Jones was even a twinkle in her mothers eye. At one point Princess Kelly’s character says, “What’s wrong with me, shouldn’t I be emotional?” That’s the best summation of her career I could imagine. A few minutes later she tries to get emotional, but of course she has to hide her face because Princess Kelly is incapable of showing actual emotion. Unfortunately the film doesn’t appear to be in on how lifeless Princess Kelly is, and that is a damn shame.

The rest of the film is actually pretty great, and for a while I thought Dial M For Murder was going to overcome the casting of Princess Kelly. In Dial M For Murder Alfred Hitchcock establishes a different type of horror, that of mannered politeness. It’s almost appalling to watch Tony plan his evil deed and act it out in a most felicitous manner. He never bats an eyelash, he has everything planned out, in effect his evil act is a day in the study for him. The movie plays around with this, as for the most part Sir Hitchcock keeps his distance and emits a cold atmosphere to the chilly actions of Tony. For a while I felt that the casting of Princess Kelly was brilliant due to the chilliness she exudes. The problem is she’s asked to not be completely cold, we’re supposed to feel for her, and feel for her iciness I did not.

Ray Milland is outstanding as a husband wronged who now intends to do wrong himself. He’s off putting in how cordial and respectable a veneer he maintains. The majority of the film revolves around him, his scheming, and his ability to manipulate others with his comportment. He almost literally shatters every actor who tries to share the screen with him. Next to the presence of Mr. Milland all the other actors in Dial M For Murder come up wanting. That’s not a negative mind you, Mr. Milland is simply a force that takes control of the film and never lets anyone encroach upon his territory.

Where the film really starts to get into trouble is in its final fifteen minutes. I was instantly reminded of Psycho and Mr. Hitchcock’s insistence to provide needless exposition because he didn’t trust the intelligence of his audience. Dial M For Murder does the same thing as the final fifteen minutes are spent explaining, then explaining some more, and then finally explaining everything. The plot of the film isn’t hard to follow, there weren’t any surprising twists or turns that came out of nowhere. Dial M For Murder is a slow and methodical horror piece that displayed all of its trinkets for the audience to see. Mr. Hitchcock knew this and yet he felt the need to explain everything to an audience that was already in the know. An attempt wasn’t even made to turn it into a cat and mouse mind game. Nope, the final fifteen minutes of Dial M For Murder are pure info dump exposition. And as the characters talk my interest wanes and I’m disappointed that a potentially great film has been turned into a mediocre film.

Sir Hitchcock didn’t make a cracker every time out during his career. He had his share of misses, but Dial M For Murder should not have been a miss. The pieces were all in place, sans Princess Kelly that is, for a great mannered horror film. The result did not meet expectations, and mediocrity ruled the day instead. Dial whatever number you like, but Dial M For Murder and all you’ll get is a lesser Sir Hitchcock film.





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