Dial M For Murder – Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock, the undisputed master of suspense, retains the theatrical origins of this lovely melodrama by confining most of the action to one room. The result is an intellectual chase scene for the mind rather than the body, as the audience watches the police inspector unravel the puzzle of the keys. The success of the film rests with the sound plotting of the script, the fine pacing, and the cinematography. Since there is only one action scene, a stabbing which occurs halfway through the movie, most of the tension is derived from the way Hitchcock first involves the audience in the murder scheme, and then in the efforts to entrap the murderer.
From the beginning it is clear that charming tennis pro Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), is planning to have his beautiful but unfaithful wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), murdered. Tony, who is nothing if not thorough, has been planning her demise for more than a year, ever since he discovered that she was having an affair with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), an American television mystery writer. Having married Margot for her money, Tony is now. afraid that she will seek a divorce, thereby depriving him of his luxurious life style.
In the first scenes, Margot, seeing Mark for the first time in a year, explains that she had stopped their correspondence after the one love letter she had saved had been stolen from her purse at Victoria Station six months before. After that she had received two extortion letters, but the money she had sent in payment had never been collected by the blackmailer. She is convinced that Tony knows nothing of their affair.
The audience soon learns that Tony not only knows about the liaison, but that he is also her extortionist. Furthermore, Margot is not the only person he is going to blackmail. Pleading a heavy workload, Tony backs out of the theater engagement he and Margot have planned with Mark. Playing the role of the congenial, unsuspecting husband, he invites Mark to join him at a banquet being held at his club the following night. After Margot and Mark leave, Tony lures Captain Lesgate (Anthony Dawson), a disreputable rogue, over to the apartment. Lesgate, whose real name is Swann, was at Cambridge at the same time as Tony, who even then recognized a soul as unscrupulous as his own. Having followed Lesgate’s activities for several months, Tony has now amassed a portfolio of crimes sufficient to convince Lesgate that he must carry out Tony’s well-conceived plan, or he will go to jail.
Throughout the film Hitchcock uses a ground-level camera to capture the interaction between the players. As Tony outlines the perfect murder, how ever, the camera shifts overhead to give the audience a godlike perspective. Lesgate is to arrive at 10:37 the following night, take the key from under the carpet of the fifth step of the stairway just outside the apartment door, enter the flat, and hide behind the draperies behind the desk. Tony will excuse himself from the dinner at 10:40 to call his boss, but first will call home. When the phone rings, Margot will get out of bed and come to the desk, where Lesgate will strangle her. He will then whistle into the phone, at which point Tony will hang up and call his boss to support his alibi. When the deed is done, Tony will pay Lesgate a thousand pounds, which he has unobtrusively been saving at the rate of twenty pounds per week.