We had an almost pure classic movie experience recently.
(Note: If you haven’t seen Dial M for Murder, even in 2D, you really ought to ASAP. You can thank us later.)
In the film, Ray Milland plays a former tennis star who discovers his wife (Grace Kelly) is having an affair with an American mystery writer (Robert Cummings). Milland, unwilling to divorce his wife’s money, begins to plan her murder.
The most fascinating element of this film, in our view, is that it takes place on a single set – the couple’s London flat. The one overarching dramatic moment is when the would-be murderer (Anthony Dawson) tries to strangle an unsuspecting Kelly while she struggles furiously, fumbling for a pair of scissors with which to fight back.
(Digression: On the big screen, this moment is riveting. Kelly’s hand desperately gropes behind her for the scissors she knows are within reach; her frantic hand movements reveal a woman who will not let her life be stolen so easily. One can hardly breathe when watching this scene in 3D.)
Even though the action takes place on one set, Hitchcock uses clever camera angles to keep us engaged. For example, when Milland demonstrates to Dawson how the killing should be done, Hitchcock mounts the camera high above the set; it feels as though we’re watching a crime via security camera.
After Dawson has been unexpectedly killed, Milland straightens the room and manipulates bits of evidence before police arrive. Here, Hitchcock places the camera very close to the floor, as though we’re witnessing this as the dead man might.
This film is perfectly cast. Kelly and Cummings are brilliant, and Milland – Great Scott! His lengthy monologue to Dawson, recounting his discovery of Kelly’s affair, is mesmerizing. And when police start to suspect Kelly of cold-blooded murder, the smirky Milland is dazzling as laughs at suggestions that she may be guilty. The police see him as a man defending his wife, but we know he’s delighted that he’s, ahem, getting away with murder.
We (as in, yours truly) have seen this film several times, but it took the big screen and 3-D to make us appreciate it in a new way.
It also took the reactions of the young woman sitting next to us. She had never seen an Alfred Hitchcock film, and – get this – she had never seen a 3-D movie.
One would not have believed it possible in our society.
However. Her reactions would have been similar to someone seeing the film when it was newly released 1954. The woman gasped as Kelly drove the scissors into her attacker’s back. She said, “Oh ho!” at various plot twists, and laughed when, at the end of the film, the inspector (John Williams) combs his moustache while phoning Scotland Yard.
She provided an almost pure classic movie experience because it was like seeing Dial M for Murder for the first time, as Hitchcock intended it to be seen – in a theatre and in 3D. It was a pleasure to be seated next to someone who expressed nothing but admiration for this remarkable film.
Dial M for Murder: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Frederick Knott. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., 1954, Warnercolor, 105 mins.