Monday, September 20, 2010

DVD Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954)

(Released: 2004 by Warner Home Video)
Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

When the batteries are running dry, take a hit play and shoot it.”

With his typical understatement, director Alfred Hitchcock describes his efforts on another masterpiece, “Dial M for Murder”, adapted from a famous stage play by author Fredrick Knott.

In it, husband Ray Milland plots the murder of wife Grace Kelly – who is having an affair with American mystery writer Robert Cummings.

Milland meticulously plans his crime to the finest detail, only to find that the best laid plans of mice and Millands often go astray. No more, lest we venture into “Spoiler Territory”.

Despite the “star power” of its leads, the film is stolen by John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard, who cracks the case almost in the manner of a “British Columbo”. Williams, who made a career of playing “stuffy old Englishmen”, was something of a regular on the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS television program – appearing in 10 episodes of the show!

In an ironic casting twist, Williams went from trapping a “wife murderer”, to planning such a murder himself in the HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode “The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater” (1957). There, it is WILLIAMS’ character who works out every deadly detail and somewhat ineptly attempts to carry out his scheme – with the assistance and urging of an attractive “island girl” who is the product of his daydreams.

Given the involvement of John Williams, and the fact that it was produced a scant three years after “Dial M for Murder”, I would strongly suspect that “The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater” was in some way inspired by the film.

Another television production of note was the FLINTSTONES episode “Alvin Brickrock Presents” (1961). This episode parodied Hitchcock himself, and revolved around the possible murder of the Hitchcock-character’s overbearing wife. Needless to say, Fred Flintstone was no “Chief Inspector Hubbard”.

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


If there were a “CON” to list, it would have to be that the Extra Features are adequate, but not plentiful, given this is a famous film by a legendary director.

Most notably, there is NO COMMENTARY TRACK to accompany this film! Surely, there are film historians and Hitchcock scholars capable of providing such a track.


The Film: Story, cast, and direction are all first rate. Print quality is just fine for a film of its age.

Menu Navigation: Menus are attractive and easy to navigate, with the “added fun” of depicting the “cursor”, used to select the various options, as a PAIR OF SCISSORS! Those familiar with the film cannot help but smile at this little touch.

Extra Features:

“Hitchcock and Dial M” (Runs 21:33).

A “making of” documentary, that nicely covers the film, given the lack of a true commentary track. Participants include: Peter Bogdonovich, M. Night Shyamalan, Patricia Hitchcock (Alfred’s daughter), Robert Osborne, Nat Benchley, Richard Franklin, and Richard Schickel. Oddly, it is the relative “youngster” Shyamalan who makes the most interesting and enthusiastic comments of the group.

“3D: A Brief History” (Runs 7:06).

To compete with the emerging medium of television, the makers and distributors of theatrical features offered color, widescreen/Cinemascope… and for a brief time in the mid-fifties “Three Dimensional Films”.

Unbeknownst to me until viewing this feature, “Dial M for Murder” WAS released as a 3D film!

Watching the film WITH this knowledge, it becomes very clear. “Dial M for Murder” is shot in an unusual way (…which I merely attributed to the directorial quirks of “Hitchcock being Hitchcock”), where certain objects and characters exist in the EXTREME FOREGROUND, in comparison with the rest of the frame.

This technique is particularly apparent in the “attempted murder of Grace Kelly” scene. Both Kelly’s arm and the aforementioned “pair of scissors” are intentionally “thrown back” toward the audience to maximize the effect. Again, I thought this was just the director’s flair. It must have been great fun to see that way!

At the 54:05 point of the film’s length of 1:45:16, there occurs an INTERMISSION – punctuated with the on-screen image of a TITLE CARD simply saying “Intermission”.

I naturally thought that this was in keeping with “Dial M for Murder’s” origins as a STAGE PLAY. In fact, it was because the 3D effect required TWO PROJECTORS, playing two slightly different synched versions of the film – and that both projectors needed to be RELOADED at that point. (Commonly, half a film would play on one projector and the other half would play on a second projector – but this process required both projectors to be “in service” at the same time!)

The 3D fad as a whole, its specific application to “Dial M for Murder”, and the public’s boredom with, and abandonment of, the craze and its requisite 3D Glasses are examined all in the space of a scant seven-plus minutes.

Participants in this feature include: Film historian: Robert Osborne, and Filmmakers: Joe Alves (Director of “JAWS 3D”), Peter Bogdonovich, and Richard Franklin (Director of “Psycho II”).

Theatrical Trailer for “Dial M for Murder”

Golden Age Hollywood Movie Trailers were a unique art form all their own, and Warner Bros. made some of the best! One reason why was the melodramatic “Voice of Warner BrosRobert C. Bruce. Bruce carries some – but not all – of the load here.


This is a great film with a good selection of Extra Features. It is recommended for Hitchcock, murder, and suspense fans, and enthusiasts of the mid-fifties period.

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