Most murders are solved.
The murder in 1954’s Dial M for Murder is no different.
By the film’s end, the audience has seen everything that happened, so the joy in this crime thriller is in arriving at the pre-destined conclusion intact. Along the way, there are a few bumps and hiccups and there is quite a bit of genuine tension, but the end product is about the crime and its results and if the film is saying anything here it is that there is no such thing as a perfect crime, even the complicated one concocted by Ray Milland’s desperately verbose husband in Dial M for Murder.
It is no secret Hitchcock disliked this film. He admitted to Francois Trufault that he made Dial M for Murder because it was simple and safe and he knew it would make bags of money he needed to finance other, more interesting films. Dial M for Murder was already a successful stage play when Hitchcock latched onto it and transferred it to the cinema. The degree to which that transition works is a large part of why this film remains enjoyable. Hitchcock said he resisted the temptation make the play “more cinematic,” opting instead to leave it virtually as it is on stage. Accordingly, virtually all of the film’s action occurs in one room.
A few other things here keep us interested here, but chief among them would be Milland’s excellent performance as the kind of cultured villain who would turn up again in North by Northwest. The other would be Grace Kelly, who simply is Grace Kelly. She made just three films with Hitchcock, this being the first, but she is just as good here as she is in Rear Window or To Catch a Thief, even if she has much less to do here because she is largely the unaware victim of her husband’s complicated machinations.
The other notable twist, preserved from the stage play I presume, is the decision to stick with the conniving husband as the film’s protagonist. This twist puts the audience in the odd position of seeing the film’s events almost entirely from the perspective of the culprit – not the victim. Thus, we know more than Kelly does about what is happening and the drama of the film becomes whether Kelly can figure out what the audience already knows, and in doing so, save herself from first death and then prison.
The film’s further success is down to the dialogue, which Trufault particularly liked. Put simply, this movie is a “talkie” and you have to listen to the dialogue very closely to keep track of the plot and attuned to who knows what, when. Very few films work this way anymore and perhaps more should. Dial M for Murder races by at almost breakneck speed and lurches the audience into caring – almost rooting – for the criminal before forcing moviegoers into Kelly’s corner near the end of the picture. And all of this largely through words and acting. A simple, fun moneymaker that stands up to multiple viewings largely on account of how fun it is to watch these people talk to, at and around one another.