Dial M for Murder (1954)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I see most movies by myself – perhaps because I watch so many, and so many during the week. But seeing movies with others, especially with people who like movies but are not aficionados, definitely is insightful.

After dinner last night, three of us sat down to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954).

Well, Liz fell asleep. Mind you, she was pretty whipped. Still, tired or not, someone falling asleep, especially early in a film, is not a good sign.

As we watched, I felt it dragged quite a bit, at least in the first half, due to all the tedious exposition – especially the scene where Ray Milland goes on with no apparent end essentially establishing the set up for the second half of the film. That’s the scene where he explains to Anthony Dawson, who is being blackmailed into killing Grace Kelly, the scheme.

Gord, during all of this, commented on how bad the script was. I think he was responding to how extremely long the scene is, and how it was all dialogue. Sure, people moved around, there was some camera movement and a few cuts, but you can see how it is based on a play and that means people just talking, explaining. Hitchcock does try to make it visual but still, it is all dialogue. For an audience of today, the scene is quite deadly.

It’s a weakness of the murder mystery – they inevitably have to establish story elements – characters and plot points – which usually means exposition. I find this in most of the old Columbo mysteries from TV. The first 20 or 30 minutes are boring because that is where they establish the crime and the characters. It isn’t till Columbo shows up that things get interesting.

So it is in Dial M for Murder. It isn’t engaging until the murder attempt is made, almost halfway through the film.

In the end, Dial M is worth seeing – there are some good elements. But it’s also dated somewhat and, partly due to genre and partly due to its being based on a play, it is tedious for a large part of the film.

Still, watching Grace Kelly is, as always, delightful.

(Originally posted November 20, 2005.)

2 Responses

  1. Pingback: Dial M for Murder (or tedium?) — Piddleville
  2. chandra says:

    You must be kidding. The dialogue is excellent, and it’s not Hitchcock’s fault if you and your friends have short attention spans.

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