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Dial M for Masterpiece


Most people have a favourite Hitchcock film. If you have any interest in cinema - hell, provided you own a television - you cannot have failed to come into contact with several of his masterpieces. Ask anyone which is their favourite Hitchcock film, and chances are they’ll name one of the following: Rebecca, Notorious, North by Northwest, Rear Window, The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo. Broadly speaking, I like all of these films, and would consider a number of them to be among the best ever created. My personal favourite Hitchcock, however, is a little unusual, in that it’s one of Hitchcock’s least Hitchcockian efforts: Dial M for Murder.

I first came into contact with this film as part of the Media Studies class I took in my final year at school. When it started, I initially thought “Oh no, not a crummy 1950s drama” (I was rather set in my ways regarding movie-watching preferences back then). But, as the minutes ticked by, I found myself getting drawn into the narrative in a way that really hadn’t happened to me before. More than anything else, I was struck by the intelligence of the script as Ray Milland, in the most wonderful gleeful bastard mode, reeled the hapless Anthony Dawson into his diabolically twisted plan. The script is ingenious: a backwards whodunit in which we are told verbally, in extreme detail, precisely how a murder is going to be committed, before showing it happening and going horribly wrong, despite the fact that its instigator thinks he’s covered every possible angle.

Dial M for Murder

Hitchcock isn’t really doing anything hugely revolutionary with the camera here, although the film is noteworthy for being designed to be projected in 3D, a choice made all the more bizarre by the very static, stage-confined nature of the script (based on a play). As such, this film doesn’t cry out for attention in the manner of Vertigo or The Birds, both of which featured major technical innovations. Instead, it’s quietly confident and decidedly dependent on the writing and acting, both of which are top-notch.

One of these days, I’m going to write a full-blown review of this film. Until then, I just want to reiterate how great I think this film is. No, it doesn’t really stretch any boundaries, and I can’t really imagine it having been much of a stretch for Hitchcock to direct. But I’ve probably watched it more than any of his other films and, despite having seen it so many times, I still enjoy it just as much every time I dig it out and watch it again as I did when I first saw it back in 2000. Excellent stuff.

Posted: Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 8:13 PM | Comments: 6
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews



Do you know what's the correct aspect ratio for this film? The IMDb says 1.66:1, but the US disc is in fullframe while the European disc is in 1.85:1. The US disc appears to be an open matte version, because it has more information vertically and slightly less horizontal information than the European one, as is often the case with open matte versions. Still there remains the question if the correct ratio is 1.85:1 or 1.66:1.

Do you or anybody else know how this film was originally shown?

BTW, I liked Hitchcock's "Rope" very much. Almost the whole film happens in one apartment and it is shot in a way that makes it look as if there were no cuts (there are though, at the reel changes), but the tension never drops. I haven't seen it for quite a lone time now and might need to rewatch it. So I can't really tell which is my favorite Hitchcock. He made many good films and I haven't even seen all of the classics yet. ;)

Posted by: BobaFett, October 16, 2006 3:06 PM


Do you or anybody else know how this film was originally shown?

Hard to say, really. I’m aware of the aspect ratio confusion, but have never really looked into it beyond that. I did see a screengrab of the 1.85:1 release and it looked a little too cramped for my liking. I suspect it was probably intended to be projected in a multitude of aspect ratios, and I have a feeling 1.33:1 would have been the ratio of the 3D version. That’s certainly what IMDB says, and at least one other WarnerVision 3D film (The Command) lists the same ratio for its 3D exhibitions.

I like Rope a great deal as well, by the way, although I’m not as wild about it as I am about Dial M. That said, it would be entirely possible to compile a Top 10 or even Top 20 list of favourites films comprised entirely of Hitchcocks.

Posted by: Whiggles, October 16, 2006 3:14 PM


Yay for Rope!

Just had to say that.

Posted by: Baron Scarpia, October 16, 2006 9:58 PM


Have to get my votes in for "Frenzy" (for its grubby early-70s Britishness after all those American films) and "Strangers On A Train". But there are hardly any duff Hitchcocks.

Posted by: Philly Q, October 16, 2006 11:49 PM


I love Frenzy too. I like to think of it as giallo a la Hitchcock.

Posted by: Whiggles, October 16, 2006 11:51 PM


Absolutely! I was just thinking the same as I wrote that comment, although it had never struck me before. Shades of Solange and Death Walks In High Heels.

Of course I first saw Frenzy long before I'd ever heard the term giallo.

Posted by: Philly Q, October 17, 2006 12:09 AM

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