Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dial M for Murder


(1954) ***1/2

Before I’d ever seen a Grace Kelly movie, I had a sense of what she was all about. Icy. Pretty in a porcelain doll way. Then I saw To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock’s brilliantly fun caper flick about jewel thieves chilling on the Monaco beaches, and I realized how completely wrong I’d been. First of all, the babe could act, and act with humanity and sass and tons and tons of charisma. And then of course there’s the realization that hits all straight men and gay women when they see that movie the first time—no human has even been as attractive as Grace Kelly in that movie. Something about the location filming, the Hitchcock camera, a perfect moment in her life maybe. But fucking-A.

Dial M for Murder is her first Hitchcock collaboration—he saw a test reel of the 24 year old up and comer (she’d just starred in High Noon and Mogambo, her first two big movies), and got her loaned out from another studio to star in this hastily made 3D adaptation of a British mystery play. The movie itself isn’t among my favorite Hitchcocks—something about the stageyness of it feels claustrophic, I think, but she’s very good as the adulteress wife who sparks an attempted murder by her jealous gold-digging husband. It’s a talky movie, which can be good I suppose—I often like movies that are former plays—but this one seems like it’s only an accidental movie. Not so much an adaptation as just a videotaped performance. It’s good and fun and smart, to be sure, but there’s no sweeping drama of a Vertigo or Rebecca, or the cinematography of a North By Northwest.

One thing I liked about it is that the detective on the case turns out to be a pretty bright guy even though he’s a minor character. That seems rare—has there ever been a clever cop who wasn’t the protagonist of the movie? Usually, if a cop is a minor character, he’s some variation of Lestrade from the Holmes stories, the “best” of Scotland Yard, sure, but basically a boob nonetheless, just brought in to showcase the talents of the amateur sleuth (John Mclane…”Yippee-kie-yay motherfucker!”) or foil the brilliance of the criminal who’s the real hero of the story. And that’s the feeling you get here. We get to follow along as the husband plans the whole thing, and it’s fascinating to watch him rehearse, improvise, strategize, manipulate. He comes off as quick-witted and impressive, an antihero who we kind of want to see get away with it.

This is the 3rd Hitchcock I’ve reviewed so far. I’ve got a review to write for Spellbound, which I watched over the last couple days, and I’ve got Stage Fright, Rope, and Topaz cued up ready to go. So that’ll get me to 7, which isn’t bad, but I want to get to 10.

8 comments:

Octopunk said...

Movies based on plays are always interesting even if the side effects are annoying. I recall one in which a character is doused with kerosene and threatened with a lit match, and I thought "no way is he going to get set on fire, this was a play performed in crowded theaters."

I remember digging this movie's setup, in which the husband talked away and got that other guy's fingerprints on certain items without touching them himself. And I also remember the movie fizzling a little. Not a dealbreaker, but yeah, not epic.

Grace Kelly is epic, though. Dang.

Catfreeek said...

Great review, so glad you are tackling these Hitchcock films, he's my favorite director. This is also not one of my favorites but fun none the less. I can't wait to read your review of Rope, I love that film.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I'm enjoying your Hitchcock reviews as well. If I wasn't ass-deep in zombie movies I would love to join you. I'm embarrassed to say I've never seen this one.

DCD said...

Excellent review. Rear Window is another one where Kelly is incredible. Doesn't look like anyone has reviewed that either...

Whirlygirl said...

I'm not sure if I've ever seen a Grace Kelly film, though, it sounds like I would remember. This is on my list of things to do in life.

Landshark said...

Good point. I'll try to get Rear Window too.

Whirlygirl said...

Ha ha, Landshark, we commented simultaneously. Check out the time stamp.

Catfreeek said...

I loooove Rear Window Jimmy Stewart is outstanding in that as well.