The same year (1954) Grace Kelly starred in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” she appeared in another Hitchcock film “Dial M for Murder.” This one is also a claustrophobic apartment centered drama. This one takes place in London and Kelly is Margot Wendice unhappily married to Tony played by Ray Milland. She has an American boyfriend Mark Halliday played by Robert Cummings. Tony is aware of the affair and has a plan to eliminate his wife but keep her money. He plans her murder to occur at their apartment while he is at a party with Mark thus providing himself with a strong alibi. He blackmails an old acquaintance of his from college, Charles Swann, who is a small time criminal, to commit the murder for him. He gives Swann the key to the apartment and designates a time when he will call his wife to lure her into the darkened living room where Swann can strangle her.
The machinations around the crime and the details of its failure make for the complexity of the second act. While being strangled Margot manages to grab a pair of scissors and plunge them in Swann’s back. After Swann expires, Tony recovers from the failure and without missing a beat tells Margot over the phone to wait until he gets home to call the police.
Tony manages to tamper with evidence and clue in the police to blackmail evidence that paints Swann’s death as Margot killing her blackmailer. She is subsequently charged with murder, tried, convicted and sentenced to death. The third act involves Chief Inspector Hubbard’s investigation of the facts of the crime and his clever trap for the real killer.
So, this sounds like a pretty standard British murder mystery story. It is. But the thing that elevates it is Ray Milland’s work. He is extremely entertaining as the clever, manipulative and thoroughly affable Tony Wendice. In every scene, except those with John Williams’ Inspector Hubbard character, Tony dominates the screen and the atmosphere. He manipulates the other characters easily and expertly. They don’t even realize after the fact that he’s been working against them. Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings do a competent job of performing their parts. John Williams does a slightly over the top portrayal of a senior British police detective with his Oxbridge accent and proper mustache brush. But it is Ray Milland that makes this movie so much fun for me. He is delightfully evil, a suave friendly devil. And Hitchcock did his best to make the staging enhance the choreography of the crime and also the crucial finale that completes this filmed play. And finally, once again I think Hitchcock’s English roots allows him to stage American actors as Brits but to still capture the essence of the British drawing room murder mystery. And all this without even a butler to be framed for the crime.
Well done Sir Alfred. I give this my highest rating for excellent entertainment value.