Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for Grace Kelly in the mid 1950's casting her in 3 consecutive dramatic roles. It started with Dial M for Murder, moved on with Rear Window, and ended with To Catch a Thief. It appears that he tried out new things with Dial M, perfected the art with Rear Window, and retread the character with To Catch a Thief. Now in the scheme of things, the movies all have nothing to do with each other, but at the same time we have to compare them because of the artist who made them. Now Hitchcock did make some great films, but there were a lot of dramatic films that just didn't pan out in his career. He was able to translate these stories into successful films, but not all of them have stood up over the years. With this particular film, we have one where it seemed like Hitchcock didn't give his best effort, but still came away with something watchable. It would be sort of a "training" for films such as Rear Window, Vertigo, and North by Northwest which would make him infamous.
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With Dial M For Murder, Hitchcock gives us a movie entirely from the point of view of the criminal. Playing that man is Ray Milland in the role of Tony Wendice. He is an ex-tennis pro, who has been married to Margot Mary (Grace Kelly) for some time now. She had stepped out on him in the past, as he attended tennis tournaments that she pleaded for him not to attend. Risking losing her, he gave up tennis to devote more time to her, and in the midst began to hatch a plan with which to remove his wife from this Earth. To do this, he has planned to enlist the services of someone he knew back in his college days, and sets out to plan the perfect murder. One where every shred of evidence will point in the opposite direction, and for which he can never be accused. Conniving and meticulous, he works on every detail to make sure that when this hired killer goes after his wife, that he has every angle covered.
Robert Cummings plays the role Mark Holliday, the second love interest of Margot in the film. He thinks that he is the best thing for her, but has a hard time convincing her of that. It would appear on the surface, that Tony has mended his ways, and only wants to be with his wife. Giving up his tennis career was a big thing to the marriage, and she wants to remain true to him since he is willing to do the same. Not wanting to give up on someone he has fallen in love with, Mark comes back into her life one year after she ended it with him. They don't do anything but hang out as friends, but in my opinion it is something that could drive a man mad who already knows of the history between the two. As you would surmise, Tony does already know about the two of them, having tailed them himself 1 year prior.
The story evolves with the love triangle never admitting just what they are feeling for each other, nor what any of the characters think will be the long term result of all of this. This is where I think that the story really failed to make its mark, because it didn't take the time to make the audience care about the characters. Instead we have several cardboard characters who are only there to recite dialogue that doesn't always fit the personas of the people involved. First of all, I think that Milland was miscast as a tennis player, and could have been given something more believable as a back story. But suspending that belief, there was not enough awkwardness in the scenes where all 3 characters were present. When a man she has cheated with his around her husband, I would think that Margot would have been nervous about revealing herself, or at the very least attempted to keep these two men apart.
When something goes wrong with the attempt on his wifes life, Tony must set his mind to run on all cylinders as he connives a second plan to free him of his wife. In this regard, the audience clearly sees that he has lost his love for his wife, and he truly has developed a mean streak which he will tap to carry out a new plan. Instead of the film being dramatic like I would have hoped, we are told scene by scene, act by act, exactly what the characters are thinking and why they are doing what they are doing. In my experience watching films, I have found that a little subtlety can go a lot further than a blunt explanation. Being spoon fed my emotions was not what I wanted in the least, and it detracted from the film for me. There was far too much foreshadowing to how the film would end, and by the time it gets there, we are neither surprised nor impressed with how it was carried out.
Grace Kelly was not utilized in her (what turned out to be) minor role in this film. We are not given enough information about her, nor does the story attempt to get the viewers to sympathize with her. Why did she cheat? Why is she so unhappy? Is she happy now? We never get an answer to any of these questions, and instead of giving us her story, everything regarding her is glossed over, and her character becomes just mere scenery on the screen. Now I will say that she is beautiful in that part as well, but she could have been used much more for her acting talent, and not just as a pretty face in the film. I am glad that Hitchcock ended up giving her a second, and then third chance to act in his films. With the weak character development, and being presented with only the basic explanations of why our characters are now in this situation, the film lost a lot of points in my opinion. While being good for a lazy Sunday afternoon, this film cannot be considered one of Hitchcock's best, nor as one of cinemas greatest.
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