On Second Thought: “Dial M for Murder”

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The classic film is an interesting genre to say the least. Critics rave about films from long ago as these cinematic masterpieces, and modern audiences are supposed to eat it up and believe it as such. However, that doesn’t make it true, even in the slightest.

With the Warner Bros. Pictures film “Dial M for Murder”, it accomplishes being somewhat fascinating, but whatever made it a masterpiece, in the eyes of filmgoers back then, can’t be said of it today. Call it aging.

This suspense thriller film stars Ray Milland (“Escape to Witch Mountain”, “The Lost Weekend”), Grace Kelly (“The Country Girl”, “Mogambo”), Robert Cummings (“Promise Her Anything”, “What a Way to Go!”), John Williams (“Hot Lead and Cold Feet”, “No Deposit, No Return”), and Anthony Dawson (“From Russia with Love”, “Midnight Lace”).

The film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock (“Marnie”, “The Birds”), and written by Frederick Knott (“Main Bait”), from his play.

I’ve seen many Hitchcock films, as it’s some kind of goal of mine, but with each film I see, I’m more and more finding myself less impressed with the man who was nicknamed “The Master of Suspense”.

My problem isn’t that there’s no suspenseful moments at all, there are a few semi-suspenseful moments, but more with the fact that in order to get to those, you have to first traipse through a lot of slow moving plot. Interestingly, the plot’s of his film, are usually okay and consistent, plus they make sense. But it’s the slow pace, which he uses in each film I’ve seen of his, that drives me bonkers. A story should not unravel at a glacial pace. The first 20 minutes of this film did just that, and much like with “North by North West”, I had to fight hard to keep myself from falling asleep. If this is how people saw suspense back then, then I feel sorry for them.

Maybe it’s that this film, like so many of Hitchcock’s others, just can’t hold the same sway as they once did. While “Rear Window”, is one I like more than most, certainly “Rope” or “Strangers on a Train”, but even it moves quite slowly for it’s just under two hour runtime. Which makes it strange, especially given that I can’t figure out why I enjoy “Psycho”, and “The Birds” more than any of his other films I’ve seen. Perhaps it’s because I grew up watching those two a lot more than your average kid.

This film has decent characters, for the time, but they’re not particularly interesting. Kelly was particularly annoying as everything she said, and did, was more of that seen in an afternoon soap opera. She at times, bordered on wooden. But when that is what was considered good acting back then, what more can you expect? I think there was one moment where I actually got excited for her because she seemed so animated and human.

The rest of the cast was decent. They didn’t provide anything interesting, mainly because there was no character development. The only one who was mildly interesting was Milland. I find this, in part, because he just looked so menacing and evil. Even if he looks so nice and normal, there’s something sinister about him, but you’d never know.

As stated above, this film lacked anything resembling that of suspense. Where there was supposed to be this feeling of, will he get caught? or how will they discover the truth? there was more this sense that everything was only happening because it was written that way. When the investigation began, things randomly seemed to be falling into place neatly. Explanations for why Milland’s characters version of events didn’t add up came so easily. You never saw any actual work. More like guess work and the pieces just happened to be correct. It certainly made for a nice ending.

The better question is, if I know Hitchcock movies are rather dull, slow and boring, and less than suspenseful, why do I keep on watching them? It’s almost as if I have amnesia and when I see this new thing, I must see it right away. Perhaps, it’s simply that I’m not meant to enjoy his films.

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