Put down the scissors and pay attention. Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder makes its way to Blu-ray DVD with a welcome 3D transfer. But the movie’s quality – and the audio and video settings – might have you dialing a close friend and complaining that you’ve been ripped off.
There are two schools of thought on Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller Dial M for Murder -- those who believe it jump-started an incredibly prosperous run that led to the consecutive productions of Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Trouble With Harry (1955) and The Man Who Knew Too Much; and those who feel that it’s sub-standard Hitchcock. That camp would probably feel the film stands out from the Master of Suspense’s exquisite filmography by being his first (and only) experiment with 3D technology, a gimmicky tool that somehow is rearing its ugly head these days, as well.
I subscribe to the latter camp. Hitchcock often scratches his itch to explore adultery, and the murderous repercussions of men who plot to eliminate antagonists (for various reasons). Some of the director’s most memorable page-turners involve intricate mysteries that often unravel before our very eyes. Hitchcock’s best example of this might be Strangers on a Train. The least effective is probably Stage Fright, although Hitchcock’s dedicated fans frequently shift opinions on the legendary filmmaker’s second-tier classics.
Dial M for Murder belongs in that group. Don’t take me wrong. It’s far from terrible. But Hitchcock doesn’t figure out how to distance his film from its stage roots -- Dial M is adapted from Frederick Knott’s successful stage play by the playwright, himself – and the talkative, dry production rarely feels like a living, breathing movie. It’s more like a tidy rehearsal for a soon-to-be outstanding West End production, which Hitchcock happened to be filming.
Murder marks Hitchcock’s first collaboration with the beautiful Grace Kelly, the platinum blonde who’d vex the suspense director and prompt him to make superior films in Rear Window and the entertaining To Catch a Thief. Kelly plays Margot Mary Wendice, a flirtatious socialite whose husband, Tony (Ray Milland), suspects his wife of sleeping with their family friend, Mark (Robert Cummings). Fed up with their adultery, Tony recruits a former classmate to murder Margot through some elaborate plotting. If you think things go according to plan, you’ve never seen a Hitchcock film.
In hopes of sprucing up what he probably realized was a flat and overly-convoluted story, Hitchcock resorts to 3D for his murder-mystery thriller, yet that only improves the one scene that inherently benefits from the additional dimension – the attempted murder. Outside of the scissors-and-scarf scuffle, Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder is a well-acted but laboriously paced plodder that grinds to an even slower trot during a third act investigation. This sequence involves conflicting motives, the placement of a key, Margot’s innocence in her murder of self-defense, etc. On paper, this should be suspenseful, but the proceedings lack spirit.
Hitchcock’s incapable of making a flat-out stinker. But Dial M for Murder always struck me as the director circling material that usually stimulates him, yet failing to find a way to break out of the routine he’d fallen into with previous films. As Hitch is quoted as saying in the extras on the disc, “When the batteries are running dry, take a hit play and shoot it.” Well, his batteries were running dry, and I really believed that it shows in Dial M. Revisiting it for the Blu-ray release didn’t do much to change my mind.
The only thing more disappointing with the set than the film is the actual Blu-ray disc the studio is offering to fans. It bears mentioning that the film’s available in 3D for those who’ve upgraded to 3D televisions. (I have yet to actually upgrade my technology, and so can only grade this on the 2D Blu-ray transfer). Even still, having seen the 3D film, I don’t think that the 3D every really helped Dial M, and so I can’t see why it would be a movie I’d need to add to my collection, even if I had a 3D TV.
The same can kind of be said about the Blu-ray transfer. The visuals are recognizably grainy, and the audio is limited. You don’t notice the upgrades that usually come with a Blu-ray disc. Age shouldn’t be a factor, as much older films have been converted to Blu-ray with far superior results. The transfer of Dial M still looks like a VHS copy of Hitchcock’s film. I can’t say that’s worth the money.