I Dialed M For Murder: Have You?

HALLOWEEN 2012: BY CAITLIN HORTON

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As a writer and historian I love playing the name game. One version starts with a movie or shows that I have seen and I try to remember who directed or acted in it. Sometimes this involves movies that few people on the continent of North America have heard of, like Good King Wenceslas. But sometimes it involves a movie where the director is a master craftsman and the actors illustrious, like Dial M for Murder from 1954 by Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitchcock truly was a revolutionary director for all time, with none today being able to achieve the same level of suspense and candor in the genre of mysteries and thrillers. His Dial M for Murder delivers in every sense of the word, from the rush of adrenaline during the action to the fearfulness that the guilty party will “get away with it.” He knew just how much to add without distracting from the plot and left audiences with something worth talking about, again and again.

The story begins simply enough, with famous retired tennis star Tony Wendice and his exceedingly wealthy and beautiful wife, Margot, played by Ray Milland and Grace Kelly. They appear to be a happily married English couple living in a simple flat but beneath the surface lurks deception, anger, and jealousy. Margot is secretly carrying on an affair with American crime-fiction author Mark Halliday, while Tony, who knows of this affair and covets his wife’s wealth, plots her murder. He will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, even blackmailing his wife anonymously about her affair, then showing the letter to an old colleague who is also a petty criminal, a Mr. C. A. Swann. Swann touches the letter, leaving his prints on it. Tony then threatens that if he doesn’t murder Margot, he’ll hand the letter over to the police, who will believe Swann was the blackmailer. He has it all planned out for the evening of the murder, leaving the latch-key hiding under the carpet on the stairs in the outside hall and taking Mark out with him to a Gentleman’s Club. Swann will let himself in the apartment, hide behind the curtain, and wait for Tony to call Margot. When she comes out to answer the phone, he’ll attack and strangle her, making it seem like a burglary gone wrong.

What Tony can’t anticipate is during the ensuing struggle Margot will grab the scissors on the desk and stab the assailant, killing him in self-defense. The tables have turned and now Tony must figure out a new plan to get his wife’s money. He moves items about before the police arrive at the crime scene in an attempt to frame Margot for killing her blackmailer. Will he succeed and have his wife sentenced to death or will Mark and Inspector Hubbard figure out that something is amiss? It’d be horrible of me to give away the ending, since it’s so delightful and well worth any wait from the library. After all, the ending is the best thing about a mystery story, isn’t it?

Hitchcock uses dramatic lighting and Dimitri Tiomkin’s dramatic score to compliment the mood perfectly. Grace Kelly is as beautiful as always, though to see her in a not-so-innocent role is startling, if not a tad refreshing from her usual sweet self. Ray Milland is a marvelous lead, playing a calm, murderous husband to perfection. My personal favorite is Bob Cummings, usually known for his humorous nature and gets to play a more serious and well-developed role. The supporting cast, including thirteen appearances by Alfred Hitchcock, is splendid, adding dimension to a story that takes place primarily in one spot, the apartment. One thing not well known about Dial M for Murder is that it was filmed in 3D, something modern audiences are now well acquainted with, but was released in 1954 just as the craze died down. It was primarily shown in 2D and was a success for Hitchcock and his stars, adding to their already illustrious careers.

In an age when the flashy hundred million dollar movie filled with CGI is average fare, it’s amazingly refreshing to take a trip back in time and watch well thought out older films. Hitchcock managed to tell his stories without green screen or computers and still captivated his audiences with cunning plot twists and turns. It is a high mark that people still love his films, even over modern remakes, and will gather together in front of the TV for a movie mystery night, sharing popcorn and jumping in fright at pivotal scenes. He was a master of his craft, but also liked to entertain people, giving them film that could be reminisced about even 60 or 70 years later. And that is just what I’ve been doing, hoping to inspire many more movie mystery nights with friend, family, popcorn, and a good Hitchcock thriller like Dial M for Murder! ■

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Caitlin Horton is a 20-something reader, seamstress, and history buff. She lives a life blessed in the knowledge that she is God’s child, and her life has a purpose within the scope of His plan. She encourages her readers to remember, every day can be like Bilbo’s “adventure” if you’re willing to take the “ordinary” and add some “extra” in front of it! She also blogs about her crafts!

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