Warner Bros. // 1954 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // October 16th, 2012
Do you really believe in the perfect murder?
I had no idea that Dial M for Murder was originally filmed for a 3D release. It seems like something I would have heard about at some point, but there you go. Though in its initial run, it was never actually exhibited in the format, it was rereleased that way during the '80s, when the second 3D craze was happening. Now, for the first time and with much anticipation from me, it arrives on 3D Blu-ray, and I can decidedly say that I wish it was a whole lot better.
Former tennis star Tony Wendice (Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend) married the independently wealthy Margot (Grace Kelly, Rear Window) years ago, and while the marriage seems solid, Margot has entertained an affair with American crime writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings, Saboteur), who has just arrived back in London on vacation. Unbeknownst to Margot, Tony knows all about it, and while the lovers rekindle their romance, he has schemed to have a former college chum kill his wife. Unfortunately, his plans change when the murderer becomes the murdered and he has to protect himself from suspicion.
In speaking about Dial M for Murder, Alfred Hitchcock (Rope) said, "When the batteries are running dry, take a hit play and shoot it." I have no idea why his batteries were low, but in directing the play from Frederick Knott, who also adapted it for the screen, he made one of the sharpest dramas of his career.
It's one of his most confined films, with all but a handful of shots taking place within the apartment, and it feels very small. Some of the conversations that occur, especially with the police, are really just in service of the stage and are unnecessary. Since when do the police come in, have a seat, and discuss all this over a brandy and pipe? That's a small complaint, though, because only seeing the outside world through windows or in the abstract courtroom scene adds a lot of tension to the story.
For it to succeed at such a small scale, the performances and script have to be spot on, and they work together here to make a fun and memorable drama that delivers suspense without verging very far into thriller territory. There's the murder scene, of course, but beyond that, the twists and turns are all in the dialog and character interactions. The chemistry around the players is all fantastic and Ray Milland, especially, makes a great turn as Tony Wendice. He's a weirdly sinister fop who never seems trustworthy for a second. He has a healthy chemistry with Grace Kelly and he has just the right amount of contentiousness with Robert Cummings. Plus, the one extended scene he shares with Anthony Dawson (Death Rides a Horse), who plays the crook, is classic blackmail stuff.
Hitchcock directs Dial M for Murder with a mannered stagey efficiency that can feel a little slow at times, but the payoff makes it all worth it. It's a brightly colored film with a lot of humor and an oddly comedic score by Dmitri Tiomkin (High Noon). The whole thing feels almost too bright to support this kind of story, but it works quite well. It isn't my favorite of his films, but it's an interesting diversion from his usual material to that point and looks forward to the shorter, narrower stories he would tell in Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
The 3D Blu-ray of Dial M for Murder is really a tale of two transfers. Excited as I was to see the depth in Warner's 3D transfer, I came away extremely disappointed. It looks downright terrible. While, a few hiccups aside, the foreground and background look pretty good with solid dimensional delineation, the middle ground is awful. I don't know whether it's a product of the old process, the transfer itself, or my equipment (though every other 3D Blu-ray I watched on the same settings has looked great), but the center of the frame never comes together completely. It's double vision, like I watched it late at night after a case of beer (for the record, I didn't). In the darker scenes, it's nearly unwatchable.
On the bright side, the 2D 1.78:1/1080p transfer is by far the best the film has ever looked. The colors are nicely saturated and very natural, the grain structure is strong, and black levels are deep and full. There is a little bit of shimmer at times, but it's never distracting, and this is most definitely the preferred way to view the film. The DTS-HD mono mix is equally excellent. With the obvious lack of dynamics aside, there is no background noise to speak of on any level, and both the dialog and musical score are clear, bright, and excellent. The only extra is a twenty minute featurette called "Hitchcock and Dial M," which is far from the best look at the film you're going to find and even features M. Night Shyamalan nearly comparing himself to Hitchcock, which is laughable. It's not bad, but there's little here you can't find presented better elsewhere. A trailer is also included to round out the release.
Warner's 3D release of Dial M for Murder is the picture of a missed opportunity. There are going to be a lot of Hitchcock fans who have never seen the movie in its "proper" format and who will want to, only to have their expectations dashed by a shoddy transfer. Luckily, the 2D looks good enough to still warrant an upgrade, but even if you have the technology to view it in the advertised format, it's not worth it.
3D: Guilty. 2D: Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* 2D Version