Back in the year 1899 on August 13th, the great suspense director Alfred Hitchcock was born. There isn’t much more to say about Hitchcock that someone much smarter than me hasn’t already said, but I will add that in my few years studying film Hitchcock’s influences can be seen across all types of genre and national lines. He was a master of suspense, and while that is a term I feel is overused, for Hitchcock it fits. Outside of his memorable characters or twist endings, Hitchcock was excellent at using mood and space to intensify even the most mundane of sequences. Take for instance the scene in Vertigo where James Stewart first starts following Kim Novak’s character. The pace is slow and methodical, but by emphasizing distance and Bernard Hermann’s amazing score, the scene is full of tension and suspense.
Hitchcock’s 1954 film Dial M for Murder may not be as well known or as thrilling as Vertigo, Psycho, or North by Northwest, but the film is classic Hitchcock. It is based off a play of the same name, and it is clear after watching the film that it had its origins on the stage. The whole film, outside of one small scene, takes place in the apartment of the two main characters Tony (Ray Milland) and Margot Mary Wendice (Grace Kelly). This is common for Hitchcock, he used small sets in Rope and Rear Window, but it never ceases to amaze how effective he is in small spaces. The camera itself is not very mobile, but Hitchcock shots from every possible angle and fills every inch of space with action until that small apartment feels like our own home. This may seem like an overrated quality to have in film, after all shouldn’t story be more important, but in my opinion for thrillers it is actually very important. After all how can we be worried about what’s around the corner when we don’t even know where the corner is. Also in murder movies the smallest details are often the most important and knowledge of the surrounding space allows for more astute viewing.
However, despite Hitchcock’s successes with the cinematography in Dial M for Murder, for me the plot causes the film to fall flat. The theatrical aspect that makes the look of the film such a success is also the reason the plot seemed stale. The murder plot and unraveling are both fairly complicated and well thought out, but instead of seeing it come to fruition with action instead the viewer is treated to long explications. That isn’t to say explanation isn’t necessary in thrillers, but outside of the actual murder sequence, which is very suspenseful, the rest of the film is somewhat boring. Hitchcock does an excellent job of putting all the pieces in place for us to analyze, but in the end instead of following things in action, the conclusions are just long scenes of dialogue. If not for the excellent performances by Milland, Kelly, Robert Cummings, and John Williams, the movie would frankly be boring. Still not even their well crafted reactions make the film as thrilling as it could be. It’s a shame because Dial M for Murder has one of the most well crafted murder plots and endings of any Hitchcock film I have seen.
After Mrs. Wendice was sentenced to death for the murder of the man her husband blackmailed into marrying her, I though the movie was amazing. That would have been a crazy twist to have the actual murder plot to fail, but for the bad guy to win in the end. That would’ve gone against Hitchcock’s trademark style and may have been dark for the time. However, a few scenes between Milland and Kelly before her execution and a scene of her dying with her actual lover and her deceitful husband watching would’ve been extremely powerful and shown the varying ways that evidence and stories can be misconstrued by authority. That isn’t to say that I think I have the formula to improve upon a classic, but something other than the traditional ending would’ve made the film that much more memorable. I’m sure Hitchcock would be rolling in his grave at my suggestions, but that’s the best part of his films. They are excellent works of art, and they are still relevant and exciting to talk about today. So Happy Belated 111th Birthday Mr. Hitchcock, you truly were one of a kind.
Up Next: As Election season kicks into gear, I take a look at the 1994 political mockumentary Bob Roberts.