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With: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson
Written by: Frederick Knott, based on his play
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 105
Date: 28/05/1954

Dial M for Murder (1954)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Grace Under Pressure

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Alfred Hitchcock's films all play amazingly well on home video. That is, all except for two of them, To Catch a Thief (1955) and Dial M for Murder (1954). To Catch a Thief was the Master's one exercise in Cinemascope, and, for some astonishingly dumb reason, Paramount has yet to release it in a letterboxed version. [Note: I was wrong here; Paramount evetually did release a DVD in the correct aspect ratio, and it's not Cinemascope.] As for Dial M for Murder, it may look just fine on home video, but not everyone knows that it was originally filmed in 3-D.

When released, it was only shown in a handful of theaters in its original 3-D format before it was smashed back into 2-D. In 1980, the film was re-released using an inferior single-projector process, but I didn't get to see it then. I've been waiting almost my whole life to see it in its 3-D format, and I got my wish. In November of 1999, San Francisco's great Castro theater played it for a two-week run in its original two-projector format with 3-D glasses provided, and I saw it for the first time the way it was meant to be seen.

Dial M for Murder strangely doesn't show off the 3-D technique very often. Hitchcock himself was not fond of the format, and dismissed the picture later in his career. There are a couple of distinctive shots, one being Grace Kelly with a pair of scissors, that really jump out at you. But otherwise it's one of Hitchcock's more restrained efforts. In the film, Ray Milland plots to kill his wife (Kelly), who has been seeing a writer (Robert Cummings) on the sly, so that he can inherit her money. His plan is meticulous, but of course, everything goes wrong. He then spends the film covering his tracks under the nose of a sharp police inspector (John Williams). The 3-D is distracting only for the first few minutes until you get used to it. It takes that long for the plot to kick in anyway.

Based on a stage play by Frederick Knott, the movie rarely strays from its one set. Hitchcock assumed that adding extra scenes to "open it up" would be distracting and unnecessary. However, the filming within the apartment is carefully constructed to look unobtrusive, and you can feel the Master looking on from every shot. The stage play magically disappears and a Hitchcock film appears.

Grace Kelly should always be seen in Technicolor and 3-D. Hitchcock was at his best when he was working with inspiring actors like James Stewart and Cary Grant, or with actresses he was enamored of like Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Vera Miles, and Tippi Hedrin. Kelly is luminous in Dial M for Murder, but, sadly, she's not onscreen as much as Milland and Cummings, who are thumpingly dull here. Despite that, Dial M for Murder is a rare and exciting experience.

DVD Details: Too bad Warner Home Video's new DVD didn't come with a 3-D option, but the movie is good enough without it. It comes in a beautiful new Technicolor restoration and includes two featurettes, one on the making of the film (Peter Bogdanovich and M. Night Shyamalan are interviewed) and one on the "history" of 3-D, or, more specifically, as it applied to Dial M for Murder. In September of 2004, Warner released 8 new Hitchcock DVDs, including Dial M for Murder, Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Stage Fright, Strangers on a Train, I Confess and The Wrong Man.

In 2012, Warner released a new 3D Blu-ray, which requires viewers to buy a new player and a new TV set. I don't know anyone who has this setup, but just in case you don't, the new set also comes with a regular Blu-ray.

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