Dial M for Murder

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Dial M for Murder
Dial M For Murder.jpg
theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Produced byAlfred Hitchcock
Screenplay byFrederick Knott
Based onPlay:
Frederick Knott
StarringRay Milland
Grace Kelly
Robert Cummings
John Williams
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
CinematographyRobert Burks
Editing byRudi Fehr
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release datesMay 29, 1954
Running time105 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1.4 million
Box office$6,000,000[1]
 
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Dial M for Murder
Dial M For Murder.jpg
theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Produced byAlfred Hitchcock
Screenplay byFrederick Knott
Based onPlay:
Frederick Knott
StarringRay Milland
Grace Kelly
Robert Cummings
John Williams
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
CinematographyRobert Burks
Editing byRudi Fehr
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release datesMay 29, 1954
Running time105 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1.4 million
Box office$6,000,000[1]

Dial M for Murder is a 1954 American thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings. The movie was adapted from a successful stage play by Frederick Knott, and was released by the Warner Bros. studio.

The screenplay and the stage play on which it was based were both written by English playwright Frederick Knott, whose work often focused on women who innocently become the potential victims of sinister plots. The play premiered in 1952 on BBC television, before being performed on the stage in the same year in London's West End in June, and then New York's Broadway in October.

The single setting in the stage play is the living-room of the Wendices' flat in London (61A Charrington Gardens, Maida Vale). Hitchcock's film adds a second setting in a gentleman's club, the well of a staircase, a few views of the street outside, and a stylized courtroom montage. Having seen the play on Broadway, Cary Grant was keen to play the role of Tony Wendice, but studio chiefs did not feel the public would accept him as a man who arranges to have his wife murdered.

In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten" list—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Dial M for Murder was ranked the ninth best film in the mystery genre.[2]

Plot[edit]

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), an ex-professional tennis player, lives in a ground floor flat with his wealthy wife, Margot (Grace Kelly). Tony retired after Margot complained about his busy schedule and had begun an affair with American crime-fiction writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), which Tony secretly discovered. Tony devises a plan to have Margot murdered.

Mark visits, and Margot introduces him to Tony as an acquaintance. Tony sends the two lovers out for the evening and meets at the flat with an acquaintance from Cambridge University, C. A. Swann (Anthony Dawson), who has become a criminal. Tony has secretly been following Swann so he can blackmail him into murdering Margot. Tony tells Swann about Margot's affair, including a love letter from Mark which she once kept in her handbag. Six months ago, Tony stole the handbag and anonymously blackmailed her. After tricking Swann into leaving his fingerprints on the letter, Tony offers to pay him £1,000 to kill Margot; if Swann refuses, Tony will turn him in to the police as Margot's blackmailer.

When Swann agrees, Tony explains: he will take Mark to a party, leaving Margot at home and hiding her latchkey outside the front door of the flat. Swann must sneak in when Margot is asleep and hide behind the curtains in front of the French doors to the garden. At 11 pm Tony will telephone and Margot will go to the phone. Swann must kill her, open the French doors, leave signs suggesting a burglary gone wrong, and exit through the front door, hiding the key again.

Tony's watch stops and he phones the flat later than intended. Swann has already put the key back after entering. He tries to strangle Margot, but she stabs him with a pair of scissors, killing him. She picks up the telephone receiver and pleads for help. Tony tells her not to do anything. At home, he calls the police and sends Margot to bed. Tony then moves what he thinks is Margot's latchkey from Swann's pocket into her handbag, plants Mark's letter on Swann, and persuades Margot to hide the fact that he told her not to call the police.

The next day, Chief Inspector Hubbard questions the Wendices, and Margot makes several conflicting statements. When Hubbard says Swann must have entered through the front door, Tony falsely claims to have seen Swann after Margot's handbag was stolen, and suggests that Swann made a copy of her key. Hubbard does not believe that story because no key was found on Swann. Hubbard arrests Margot after concluding that she killed Swann for blackmailing her. Margot is found guilty and sentenced to death.

On the day before her execution, Mark tells Tony to save her by claiming that he hired Swann to kill her. Tony says the story is too unrealistic. Hubbard arrives. Mark hides in the bedroom and Hubbard asks about money Tony has been spending, tricks him into revealing that his latchkey is in his raincoat, and asks him about an attaché case. Tony claims to have lost the case, but Mark sees it on the bed, full of cash. Mark stops Hubbard from leaving and explains his theory. Hubbard says he prefers Tony's story, but after Mark leaves, Hubbard discreetly swaps his own raincoat with Tony's, and as soon as Tony leaves, he uses Tony's key to re-enter the flat. Hubbard has already discovered that the key in Margot's handbag was Swann's latchkey.

Mark returns, and police officers release Margot. She tries to unlock the door with the key in her purse, then enters through the garden, proving she is unaware of the hidden key. Hubbard has the handbag returned to the police station, where Tony retrieves it after discovering that he has no key. The key from Margot's bag does not work, so he uses the hidden key to open the door, proving his guilt. His escape routes are blocked by Hubbard and another policeman; Tony makes himself a drink, and admits defeat.

Cast[edit]

Cummings, Kelly, and Milland

Production[edit]

After 1953's I Confess, Hitchcock planned to film The Bramble Bush, based on the 1948 novel by David Duncan, as a Transatlantic Pictures production with partner Sidney Bernstein. However, there were problems with the script and budget, and Hitchcock and Bernstein decided to dissolve their partnership. Warner Bros. allowed Hitchcock to scrap the movie, and begin production on Dial M for Murder.[3]

Mark's name was changed for the film. In the original play, he was Max Halliday.[4]

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In Dial M for Murder, he can be seen thirteen minutes into the film, in a black-and-white reunion photograph, sitting at a banquet table among former students and faculty.

3-D release[edit]

The 1954 film was shot with M.L. Gunzberg's Natural Vision 3-D camera rig. This rig was notable for being the same rig that started the 3-D craze of 1953 with Bwana Devil and House of Wax. Intended originally to be shown in dual strip polarized 3-D, the film played in most theaters in normal 2-D due to the loss of interest in the 3-D process by the time of its release.[citation needed]

The film earned an estimated $2.7 million at the North American box office in 1954.[5] Dial M for Murder marked the end of the brief flirtation with 3D movies of the early 1950s. Hitchcock said of 3-D, “It's a nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day.” [6]

The failure of 3D to remain popular of course had nothing to do with the quality of the Hitchcock movie. It also was not caused by the common misconception of audience dissatisfaction with wearing 3D glasses. It was caused mainly by screenings that failed to properly synchronise the dual projection system in use at the time. [7]

In February 1980, the dual-strip system was used for the revival of the film in 3-D at the York Theater in San Francisco. This revival did so well that Warner Bros. re-released the film using Chris Condon's single-strip StereoVision 3-D system in February 1982.[citation needed]

Warner Bros. released Dial M for Murder as a 3D Blu-ray on October 9, 2012.

The film was shown in 3D in some UK cinemas during the summer of 2013 and in Italy at the beginning of fall of the same year.[8]

Similar films and remakes[edit]

Dial M for Murder is sometimes confused with Midnight Lace (US; David Miller, 1960), starring Rex Harrison and Doris Day as the two films have a similar setting and subject-matter. In this film, a woman (Day) receives harassing telephone calls that escalate until she is in physical danger. In the end, the culprit turns out to be her husband (Harrison). There is a police inspector around (in both cases played by John Williams), and the setting is very British.

Being one of the classic examples of a stage thriller, it has been revived a number of times since, including a US TV movie in 1981 with Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer. The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) produced a two-hour color version in 1968 featuring Laurence Harvey as Tony, Diane Cilento as Margot and Hugh O'Brian as Max.[9]

A Perfect Murder is a 1998 remake directed by Andrew Davis and starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in which the characters of Halliday and Swann are combined, with the husband (Douglas) hiring, or rather coercing, his wife's lover (played by Viggo Mortensen) into a scheme to kill her. However, the lover hatches a revenge plot against the husband. Things go disastrously wrong for both of them, bringing in the cold, smoothly dogged police inspector (David Suchet), whose role is much reduced, as it is Gwyneth Paltrow's character, the wife, who unravels much of the mystery.

The television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents premiered in the United States the year after Dial M for Murder was released. The main character in an episode from the series's first season, "Portrait of Jocelyn," is named Mark Halliday. In the episode, Halliday's wife, Jocelyn, has disappeared several years earlier, and at the conclusion, it is revealed that he murdered her.[10]

The original play was also adapted in the Soviet Union in 1981 under the title Tony Wendice's Mistake (Ошибка Тони Вендиса).[11]

The film was remade in HIndi Language in 1985 as Aitbaar, starring Raj Babbar, Dimple Kapadia, and Suresh Oberoi. Aitbaar was remade that same year in Tamil as Chaavi with Sathyaraj, Saritha, and Nizhalgal Ravi. Another Bollywood film, Humraaz (2002), starring Bobby Deol, Akshaye Khanna, and Amisha Patel, was inspired by both films as well as A Perfect Murder.

The episode "The Fifth Stair" of the TV series 77 Sunset Strip recreated Dial M for Murder with Richard Long portraying Tony Wendice.

Awards and honours[edit]

American Film Institute

In popular culture[edit]

Alternate titles[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

External links[edit]