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Dial M for Murder (1954)

Cast: Grace Kelly, Ray Milland

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay: Frederick Knott

While this film is not considered one of Hitchcock’s finest, “Dial M for Murder” is a jolly thriller nevertheless. Adapted from Frederick Knott’s phenomenally successful play, “Dial M for Murder” is claustrophobically set in a flat with a few outdoor shots for much-needed relief.

The movie involves an ex pro tennis player (what’s with Hitch and tennis? Remember “Strangers on a Train”?) Tony Wendice who decides to do away with his rich wife Margot when he realises she has fallen in love with a writer Mark Halliday. Tony decides the only way to get Margot’s money to keep up his rather extravagant standard of living after “tennis has done away” with him is by killing her.

He ropes in a disreputable classmate of his to do the deed. The elaborate plan falls through and Margot kills the killer instead. Thinking on his feet, Tony moves to an even more audacious Plan B to destroy his wife.

More than half a century after its release, “Dial M for Murder” still manages to thrill. Grace Kelly, Hitchcock’s muse of the time (she went on to act in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief”) looks quite like the princess in distress as Margot. Dressed in warm, rich colours in the beginning of the film her wardrobe progressively gets drabber.

Ray Milland plays the suave Tony while Robert Cummings plays the dashing Mark Halliday.

For those with a pronounced weakness for thrillers, like yours truly, “Dial M for Murder” seduces with its sleek lines and lascivious curves. There have been learned treatises on why we love detective fiction as much as we do. One of the reasons put forth is because the finale provides neat and tidy answers which we are always looking for in life. Be that as it may, there is no denying the joy of the lovingly-detailed world of crime fiction with its clues and red herrings, its brilliant sleuths and plodding Watsons.

You could love the art deco look and feel of Agatha Christie’s Poirot with David Suchet comfortably inhabiting the eccentric Belgian’s shoes with help from James Japp of the Scotland Yard and good friend Arthur Hastings. You could lose yourself in the world of theatre and Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn courtesy Dame Ngaio Marsh. Or you could go for a contemporary dash of crime with P. D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh of the Met and Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford.

“Dial M for Murder” in a way is a tribute to detective fiction. The hero is a writer of mystery novels and there is even a treatise on writing mystery where Halliday admits that while he can plan the perfect murder, he might not be successful “because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to; and in real life they don’t... always.” The shrewd Chief Inspector Hubbard comments: “They talk about flat-footed policemen. May the saints protect us from the gifted amateur.”

Even though we see the crime from the Tony’s point of view, the tension is maintained as Tony manages to be a step ahead of the investigating officers.

“Dial M for Murder” was remade as “A Perfect Murder” (1998) with Michael Douglas playing the husband, Viggo Mortensen playing the lover and the radiant Gwyneth Paltrow playing the unfaithful wife. The film was also made in Hindi as “Aitbaar” (1985).

Directed by Mukul Anand, the film starred Dimple Kapadia, Raj Babbar as the evil husband and Suresh Oberoi as the lover.

Incidentally, if the props look kind of odd and jut into the frame, it is only because it was originally shot in 3 D and Hitchcock being the master technician that he is, used 3 D to further the plot rather than just as a gimmick.

All purveyors of crime fiction, will find a lot to love in “Dial M for Murder” from its taut plot to snappy dialogues and intelligent set ups.


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