Starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly. Written by Frederick Knott from his play. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. PG. 105 min. Opens Oct. 5 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
As Alfred Hitchcock’s sole concession to the vogue for 3-D movies in the 1950s, Dial M for Murder was bound to inspire renewed interest during this latest chapter in the long and blurry history of stereoscopic cinema. Besides refurbishing the original for its Blu-ray release this month, Warner Brothers created a new theatrical version that first played TIFF Bell Lightbox in September and now returns for an extended engagement.
Originally released in 1954—by which time enthusiasm for 3-D had cooled so much, the film was mostly presented in its flattened form—Hitchcock’s thriller starred Ray Milland as Tony Wendice, a smoothly villainous Londoner whose plan to kill his wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), proves to be less than perfect. The deluxe treatment can’t quite mitigate the suspicion that Hitchcock was never fully sold on the possibilities of 3-D, nor the worth of the story itself, which was adapted by Frederick Knott from his own hit play. In regards to the former, the director repeatedly emphasized the depth of field by placing objects in the extreme foreground—indeed, one lamp is prominent enough to deserve billing alongside the actors. But it’s ironic that Hitchcock expressed a keener interest in spatial relations in Lifeboat and Rope, two earlier movies in which the action was essentially confined to one space.
There’s a similarly half-hearted quality in Hitchcock’s treatment of Knott’s script, a drawing-room mystery whose primary pleasure lies in watching Tony improvise revisions to his plans. Perhaps sensing that there wasn’t much room for the psychosexual undercurrents so abundant in the features that were soon to follow (Rear Window arrived in theatres only three months later), the director instead amplifies the potential for self-parody, as if he too believed Knott’s yarn had a few too many twists to entirely deserve his imprimatur. That said, Dial M for Murder is so impeccably executed that Hitchcock could hardly be accused of phoning it in.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article featured an incorrect photo; it has been replaced with one from the film.