Dial M for Murder: Retro Review

Alicia Veliz – Guest Writer

Dial M for Murder is a mystery thriller released on May 18, 1954. It was written by English playwright Frederick Knott and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It first premiered as a BBC TV Special in 1952 and later opened at London’s Westminster Theatre, eventually ending up on Broadway. In 1953, the rights were purchased for US $75,000 by Warner Bros and when another project of Hitchcock failed to come to fruition, the director decided to return to the movie genre that he became the most associated with – thrillers. And that’s how he eventually ended up as Dial M for Murder’s director.

It has been noted that Mr Hitchcock preferred blondes to be his leading women and Grace Kelly seemed to be one of his favorites. Hitchcock once described Kelly as a “rare thing in movies…fit for any leading-lady part,” and it was said he had the easiest working relationship with her of any star. They worked so well together that they went on to make two more films, Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch a Thief in 1955. Incidentally, Grace would leave Hollywood behind to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956. However, she did consider a return to Hollywood in 1962 when Mr Hitchcock offered her the lead role for Marnie. But she subsequently declined.

The Lambada? But that’s the forbidden dance!

Here Grace plays the role of wealthy socialite Margot Wendice who is married to an English professional tennis player Tony Wendice (Ray Milland). Tony’s career causes a rift in the marriage and Margot ends up having an affair with an American crime-fiction writer named Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Trivia: in the original play the name was Max Halliday but, was changed to Mark for the film).

When Tony discovers that Margot was having an affair, he retires from tennis on the ruse of trying to save his marriage by getting a more stable job so that he can be near Margot. However Tony, who has become quite comfortable with the upper-class lifestyle, decides to plot the perfect murder to get revenge on his unfaithful wife. A chance encounter with an old acquaintance from Cambridge University Charles Swann (Anthony Dawson) provides Tony with the catalyst he needs to set his plan in motion by blackmailing Swann into murdering Margot. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go as smoothly as planned and through the brilliant detective work of Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) and Mark, they are not only able to save Margot from assassination, but manage to beat Tony at his own game.

You don’t say…

Dial M for Murder was shot in just 36 days but Mr Hitchcock took special interest in one scene in particular. The scene where Swann tries to kill Margot. It was considered to be the most important sequence in the movie and Hitchcock became so stressed out on getting it exactly right that he lost almost 20 pounds during filming. Did you know that this film was originally shot in 3D and it is Hitchcock’s only 3D film? Unfortunately, the 3D craze of the early 1950’s began to die out and it was eventually screened in 2D.

Hitchcock tends to make maximum use of lighting, textures, and colors in order for his thrillers to have the desired effect. He was a stickler for details and personally chose every prop for the set which was almost entirely filmed indoors. The director’s talent for captivating audiences with subtle changes to tones in pivotal scenes.  For example Grace Kelly’s wardrobe which starts off with bright colors and then when the theme begins to get darker so does her clothes to match the somber mood.


The simplicity of the item that was responsible for the downfall of Tony is absolutely brilliant and not at all farfetched. It shows us that there is no such thing as a “perfect murder” even if you think that you have got all the bases covered. There’s also a sense of realism and sympathy for Margot’s character because, while you may not agree with her actions due to her feelings of abandonment by her husband, it’s something that can happen to anyone in real life if the foundation of marriage isn’t strong enough. She is extremely vulnerable in her naivety in thinking that she could have hidden her affair, but she does try to go back into making the marriage work when she ends the affair with Mark upon Tony’s retirement from tennis.

The perseverance and dedication of the Chief Inspector to prove Margot’s innocence up until the ending climax of the film is quite refreshing and ends the movie on a high note with a marvelous mix of satisfaction and justice being served. This is an absolute Classic and is one of my favourite Hitchcock films. It is also the first one of his that I ever saw and eventually got me hooked on his films.

I simply adore the Classic Hollywood era and you can look out for more reviews like this one packed with fun facts and trivia about groundbreaking techniques used for filming and backgrounds on the actors and actresses.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

For my review of Spanish thriller Offering to the Storm you can click here.

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