“In Dial M for Murder, I did my best not to go outside…what I did was to emphasize the theatrical aspects”
The film Dial M for Murder (1954) was written by Frederick Knott based on his play. Several different TV versions of the play have been done and it was the basis for the 1998 film A Perfect Murder starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow. Here’s an exchange from the ’54 version—directed by Hitchcock— between Tony (Ray Milland), Mary (Grace Kelly), and Mark (Robert Cummings).
Tony: How do you go about writing a detective story?
Mark: Well, you forget detection and concentrate on crime. Crime’s the thing. And then you imagine you’re going to steal something or murder somebody.
Tony: Oh, is that how you do it? Interesting.
Mark: Yes, I usually put myself in the criminal’s shoes and then I keep asking myself, “what do I do next?”
Mary Do you really believe in the perfect murder?
Mark: Yes, absolutely. On paper that is. And I think I could plan one better than most people but I doubt if I could carry it out.
Tony: Why not?
Mark: Well because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to and in real life the don’t always. No, I’m afraid my murders would be something like my bridge, I’d make some stupid mistake but not realize it until everybody was looking at me.
For low-budget filmmakers, Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder is an excellent film to study because most of it takes place in one apartment. Hitchcock said filmmakers often go wrong when they try to “open up” a play by adding exterior scenes and business. Hitchcock, of course, embraced limitations of locations in shooting Rope, Rear Window and Lifeboat. (One could imagine Hitchcock watching Buried (which takes place in a coffin) and thinking, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
One of Hitchcock’s trademarks in many of his classic films his visual storytelling. But Dial M for Murder is dialogue driven. It’s more intellectually based than the emotional films such as Birds, Psycho and North by Northwest. Francis Truffaut remarked to Hitchcock that he took something that’s hard to do and somehow made it look easy:
“I just did my job, using cinematic means to narrate a story taken from a stage play. All of the action in Dial M for Murder takes place in a living room, but that doesn’t matter. I could just as well have shot the whole film in a phone booth. Let’s imagine there’s a coupe in that booth. Their hands are touching, their lips meet, and accidentally one of them leans against the receiver, knocking it off the hook. Now, while they’re unaware of it, the phone operator can listen in on their intimate conversation. The drama has taken a step forward. For the audience, looking at the images, it should be the same as the reading the opening paragraphs of a novel or hearing the expositional dialogue of the stage play. You might say that the film-maker can use a telephone booth pretty much in the same way a novelist uses a blank piece of paper.”
Dial M for Murder was also filmmed in 3-D.
Scott W. Smith
Read Full Post »