25.10.12

But She Isn't Going To Say Anything, Is She?: Dial M For Murder (1954)

I am beginning to think, after watching so many Alfred Hitchcock films that the man had to have murdered a few people in his illustrious life.  As is the case with Dial M For Murder, as well as so many of the autuer's other works, the execution of the perfect crime seems to be a topic of great concern for Hitchcock, and while this work in particular is based on a play, it, nonetheless, finds itself filled with various influences from the master of suspense.  Furthermore, I am fully aware that this particular Hitchcock film is not exactly the most entrenched within the horror genre, but I feel quite strongly that this landmark in cinema still packs in enough suspense to deserve mention this month on the blog, not to mention it is one of the Hitchcock films that I had not seen prior and I am always ready to move through more of his oeuvre.  A film that is based on a play is nothing new, but in Hitchcock's hands, the performance and setting aspects of the film become heightened considerably, he, as a director, is keen to pay homage to the play by setting the opening shots in a frozen manner, suggesting the opening of a scene right after the curtain has raised.  Furthermore, in a manner that has become Hitchcockian in its execution, the film manages to take actions and items within the plot and drastically change their meaning and representation to the audience once the plot thickens a bit, and as many a film scholar know, one cannot watch a Hitchcock film with out considering the deluge of various Freudian implications latent to any of his works.  Essentially when viewing a work by Alfred Hitchcock you can be assured that plot, acting and miss-en-scene will come together in a masterful way and provide a film that magnetically pulls you towards whatever screen you are watching the work and Dial M For Murder is certainly no exception to this idea.

Dial M for Murder's central figure is Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) a former tennis player who has retired from the game and is living rather comfortably of the wealth of his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) and appears content to do so, if it were not for his knowledge of an intimate affair Margot is engaged in with a former American beau named Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).  Playing oblivious to the involvement between the two lovers, Tony plans an elaborate ploy to get both himself and Mark away from Margot, ultimately, intending to murder his wife.  However, realizing that his motives would be rather clear Tony calls upon a former college mate named Charles Swann (Anthony Dawson), in trouble with authorities for identity fraud and various forms of theft, all aimed at paying up his serious gambling debts.  Tony explains in great detail how he has planned the perfect crime for Charles to commit and that if he is willing to undertake the task he will be handsomely rewarded.  At first hesitant to do so, Charles attempts to counter Tony by threatening to turn him into the police, yet as Tony points out through various actions Charles has undertaken just by walking in the door, it would be in his better interest just to go through with the murder, because he as already set him up for trouble if he refuses.  Begrudgingly agreeing to the task, Charles goes through with the murder, however, in a moment of hesitance Margot reacts to the attack by Charles causing him to fall fatally on a pair of scissors, resulting in his death, as opposed to Margot's.  Frantic, Tony returns home to attempt to cover up his involvement in the entire course of events, suffice to say no matter how much practical planning Tony can go through certain things cannot be foreseen, such as the logical capabilities of those involved with the case, as well as occurrences within nature that lend to the emergence of one or another form of evidence.  In the end a perfect crime is impossible within the narrative of Dial M for Murder, because at some point a fact will not match up with the lie that is ultimately being told.

I mentioned the Freudian implications latent within Dial M for Murder and as I have attested multiple times on this blog I am by no means versed in my psychoanalytic theory, however, watching Dial M for Murder has made me want to uncover some of the film theory surrounding Hitchcock specifically, meaning of course that I will attempt to crack into some heavy Zizek in the upcoming months.  However, at the moment I can make a few observations of Freudian influence within the film, firstly, the notion of impotence manifests itself quite blatantly in this film, at the onset Tony is a man who is scorned by his lover, causing him to feel a strong degree of impotence, Hitchcock brilliantly provides the character with a cane as a visual metaphor for his lack of sexual drive.  However, notice the disappearance of this cane upon Tony's believe that he has succeeded in killing his wife, all be it a bit backhandedly.  The impotence, at least metaphorically disappears and he is able to exert his masculine zeal again.  One could also read Tony has being a character with a degree of homosexual desire, whether it be his unusual attachment to Charles or the way in which he robotically deals with Margot by way of affection.  Even Charles, who is relatively minimal to the plot has his moment of phallic pride when he is shown in a picture with Tony, smoking the "biggest cigar in the room," a clear reference to penis size and envy surrounding such rhetoric.  In this picture, Hitchcock never one to shy away from metaphor, the cigar referenced is truly something to be seen.  Finally, much could be said about a certain affixation with one's facial hair in the films closing scenes, but that is an entirely new critical approach all its own.

Key Scene:  Margot's trial scene is rather surreal and minimalist, but probably the most intense moment of the film.

Dial M for Murder is a classic, I would suggest purchasing the film, but if you are anything like me you probably want to get the huge bluray boxset that has just been released, so waiting is certainly justified.

1 comment:

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