It’s Eavesdropping’s first anniversary and we celebrate with a film Mike’s been looking forward to seeing for almost a decade. Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder was released at the tail end of the short-lived Fifties 3D craze, and has rarely been seen in that format (even at the time). But it rolls around every so often and this week came to the Electric, so we jumped at the chance to see it.
A dialogue-heavy chamber piece, Dial M for Murder might not seem the obvious choice for the spectacle of 3D, but it’s for this reason that we find it interesting. José, who has seen it before in 3D, recalls his previous impressions of the importance of items – the keys, the handbag, the scissors – and how the stereoscopy relates to it. Mike, who wrote on 3D film at university and has defended it ever since, places Dial M for Murder in context, comparing it to both 3D of the time and today, suggesting how it was ahead of its time.
Away from the 3D, we find the film slight, a trifle, though enjoyable throughout and respectful of the audience – the film’s methodical nature is lovely. We find some of the performances disappointing, and one in particular delightful. We’re glad we saw it, even though José’s spectacles were broken.
I saw Dial M for Murder in 3-D last night and what struck me most is what a bad actress Grace Kelly really was and how little that matters when you look and dress like that in a Hitchcock film. She’s just stunning in that red Edward Carrere dress with the matching lace shrug (though the shrug itself, cutting into her armpits as it does, is badly designed — we can understand why Hitchcock would move on to Edith Head). Also, The use of 3-D WAS and remains exceptional. The whole film is about the control of space, control over how things are placed in that living room, and the fear and terror any misplacement of things within that space incurs, as things being out of place could and do lead to death. Kelly is able to save herself because her scissors aren’t where they’re supposed to be. And of course, the keys, the key to the crime, the whole resolution to the mystery, relies on first finding out where they are, then where they’re supposed to be, and then realigning where they’re supposed to have been in the light of whose they were. It’s all about the placement of things in space, just like in a 3-D movie. It’s a fascinating exercise. Hitchcock uses quite long fluid takes, sometimes the 3-D is not for effect, except obviously at the climax, but simply to build a 3-Dimensional look for that space. A lamp, a phone, a purse is what anchors it. They’re where they’re supposed to be. Wonderful to see.
Aside from applauding at the concept, at the 3-D and at the execution, one really is left wondering about actors. I mean Kelly is not good but beautiful, Ray Milland is past his prime, well, he never really had a prime but he’s ok. But Robert Cummings? I’m sure Hitchcock had reasons for his casting but I’m sure they couldn’t have had anything to do with making the film better. He seems fit only for something like Bewitched, as Samantha’s husband perhaps,
David Bordwell offers a very informative take on the film here: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2012/09/07/dial-m-for-murder-hitchcock-frets-not-at-his-narrow-room/