Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Nowadays it would be a text message

TCM's Star of the Month for April is Ray Milland; he's getting a bunch of movies every Tuesday night this month. Tonight's salute to Milland brings a number of his suspense films. Surprisingly, I don't think I've ever recommended Dial M For Murder before; that's airing at 10:00 PM ET.

Milland plays former tennis pro Tony, who's married to the lovely Margot (Grace Kelly) and living in London. However, he suspects that she's having an affair with an old friend from America, mystery writer Mark (Robert Cummings). Tony is right that Margot is still in love with Mark, so Tony comes up with an elaborate plan to get Margot bumped off, which involves blackmailing one of his old friends from school, who will take Tony's key to get into the apartment and then strangle Margot. However, the plot goes wrong: instead of Margot winding up dead, she's able to grab a pair of scissors off the desk and stab her assailant in the back, killing him and leaving him on the floor of their apartment, which presents a bit of a problem for Tony.

However, quick-thinking Tony gets an idea: he'll pin the killing on Margot, suggesting that she did it because she was trying to kill a blackmailer. Having there be a motive other than pure self-defense means that Margot can be found guilty and sentenced to be executed, which for Tony is just as good as if the original assailant had killed Margot. And the plan would work too, if it weren't for those meddling kids -- or, at least, that meddling American mystery writer.

Dial M For Murder may not be Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, but it's one of the many very good movies that he made. It's never less than entertaining, and despite some gymnastics necessary to guide the movie through its limited setting (most of the film is set within Tony and Margot's apartment), it inventively solves most if not all of the plot holes and reaches its natural "crime does not pay" ending in a satisfying manner. The acting is nothing memorable here, but then, it's all in service of the story, which is the more important thing for a movie like this. And the story delivers.

Two other interesting bits about the movie: as I mentioned back in November 2009, the scene in which Milland tries to phone his wife from the club has an obvious prop. Second, the movie was originally supposed to be in 3-D, back in the 1950s incarnation of that overrated technology. The one scene where this is most obvious is when Grace Kelly is reaching for the scissors on the desk; it's shot in such a way that Kelly's hand appears to be coming out of the screen toward the audience.

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