2/9/11

GUEST POST- Hitch on the Hump: Dial André Dumas for Murder

Heya folks. Welcome to the first Hitch on the Hump guest post of February. Appropriately, as it is Women in Horror Recognition Month, the guest posts kick off with André Dumas from The Horror Digest. For over two years, Ms. Dumas has published some of the best and most insightful reviews and articles in the horror blogging world, and I a super thrilled to have her contribute to Hitch on the Hump today. So let me turn it over to André for her thoughts on the Hitchcock masterpiece Dial 'M' for Murder.

My love affair with Alfred Hitchcock began when I was in 2nd grade. On a family trip to Universal Studios I was dragged into the Alfred Hitchcock Experience after being told several times that it would not be too scary for me. Here, they recreated the shower scene with live actors and showed clips from the famous schoolyard scene in The Birds. It was too scary---but somehow I was exhilarated. I purchased a Psycho pen from the gift shop and begged my parents to let us rent the film that night. From there on out I became obsessed. I must have rented every single fifteen pound Hitchcock DVD that my library had--and yet here I am in my twenties slowly realizing that I can hardly remember half of the films I had seen. The greatest example of this is in fact, Dial M for Murder. I can recall bits and pieces of it; the famous scissors killing, Grace Kelly’s red dress and a pair of stockings--but it is there my memories seem to end.

Having revisited the film today I can understand why I may have not remembered too much about it. It’s a film where not a whole happens and yet---so much happens, if that makes sense. I like to think of it in terms of how I felt after watching Blood Simple for the first time. That ending shot of the underside of a sink where the pipes are arranged in this intense and complicated way. Films like this and Dial M for Murder have the great fortune of speaking volumes without really raising their voices. Maybe I didn’t appreciate it when I was younger, for it lacked a similar amount of outright danger and suspense found in films like Psycho and The Birds--but I can definitely appreciate it now.

Based on the stage play by Frederick Knott, Dial M for Murder so delicately portrays a man whose idea of “the perfect murder” goes horribly wrong. After uncovering that his wife is having an affair, Tony Wendice arranges to have his wife Margot killed. In a much  unanticipated turn of events, Margot fights back and ends up killing her attacker, causing Tony’s plans to be rearranged and Margot’s innocence to be shattered.

It’s funny how your mind seems to take in the little details over the big ones. How had I not remembered that Grace Kelly’s character was having an affair? Or that Grace Kelly had initially been found guilty of the murder and sentenced to hang? I started to get worried that all those years ago I had become bored after the famous murder scene and turned off the film. It was possible, the film does get sort of heavy somewhere in the middle there but that didn’t justify my rash decision. I began thinking about what it was that was so seemingly different about Dial M for Murder and I settled on this idea.

Somehow, Dial M for Murder continues to stay a mystery even though we know the identity of the villain right away. In many mysteries, figuring out the identity of the killer is the prime harborer of suspense. Here however, the suspense is gained by the possibility of the villain’s escape right from underneath our noses. The suspense is found and put completely in the hands of the other characters. We as the audience can do nothing but sit back and wait in anticipation for them to come to the right conclusion. I had never given this much thought before but in these other typical murder mysteries--we as the audience tend to feel on the same page as the character’s trying to figure it out. This is what surprises me so much about Dial M for Murder. We are still trying to figure out something that we already know the answer to. How can that be?

The key to proving Tony Wendice’s guilt is of course what creates these wonderful moments of suspense. How can we find him guilty? And will anyone be able to prove it? Up until the final moments we are practically ready to explode with anger at the possibility of Tony’s escape and yet when we see Inspector Hubbard stealthily switch his coat for Tony’s, we barely begin to relax. We are not completely put to ease. We wait with baited breath listening to Hubbard’s commentary as he watches Tony out the window. Will he realize it? Will he mistakenly profess his guilt? Or will he just walk away? Even still in these moments of simplicity and these moments where not a lot is happening, I find that my heart continues to race.

Even earlier in the film a similar tactic is employed when Tony realizes his watch has stopped. How can it be that we are almost rooting for him to make that telephone call and secure the moment of Margot’s death? How is it that we can find ourselves on this strange divide between liking Tony and hating him? I don’t think I’ll ever understand it but trying to is a start.

And then there is everything else about Dial M for Murder. The simple way that Margot’s love is shown so differently and perfectly between the two men. By setting up a romantic kiss between the two men so close to one another we are made instantly to understand what separates them. There is such a passion in the scene between Margot and Mark and yet such a cold and distant kiss between Margot and Tony. It’s almost as if Grace Kelly plays two different characters. In some ways I find that Grace Kelly is almost always talked about for her beauty alone. What about her? What about her acting and her performance? Her transformation into a woman who has been in prison is one that I find to be alarming. She looks destroyed and she actually feels broken.

There are also the little touches that make Dial M for Murder such a strange joy to watch. From the ever so clever Hitchcock cameo in an old photograph, to the image of the detective holding a woman’s hand bag, to the very perfect way that Hubbard combs his mustache while phoning in Wendice’s arrest. Again we have simple pleasures that combine to make one film, not so simple after all.

I may have not been taken with Dial M for Murder my first time around, but that’s all changed now. Small details and big ones, Grace Kelly before and after the big house. Latch keys and nightgowns, scarves and stockings--there’s so much to talk.

Thanks André, Wonderful post, and you brought up a lot of new, great points about an old classic. There's so much going on in Dial 'M', and you really spotlighted some of the more oft forgotten moments. That's the kind of thing you can expect from André over at The Horror Digest. So if you're not a regular reader of hers, you should be. Next week I'll be back with a special Women in Horror edition of Hitch on the Hump, and then stay tuned the next week for a Guest Post from the indomitable Pax Romano of Billy Loves Stu.. I also have something in the works sure to delight fans of suspense and thrillers that I hope to announce by the end of the month. 

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful look at a wonderful film, and the only thing I can add is how wonderful the camerawork in the film is, as well as how tense certain scenes are, specifically that one with the key being left under the rug on the steps. After watching Dial M for the first time not all too long ago, it has become an instant favorite, and I'm glad to read your take on the film now.

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  2. Grace Kelly is out of control amazing in this film. She is much more glamorous in Rear Window, but I simply adore her here! Perfection!
    And it's interesting you bring up "rooting" for Wendice. I recently re watched Strangers on a Train and Hitchcock employs similar tactics there. You just love to hate Bruno. And even though he is a murderous scoundrel, you kinda want to see what he'll do next. I had forgotten that about Dial M. Thanks for mentioning it :)

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