Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Silly Nate Film Club - Dial M for Murder

“It’s a nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day.” – Alfred Hitchcock

     The phrase, “nine-day wonder” means something that loses its appeal after a short amount of time. It boggles my mind a little bit. Why nine days? Why not ten, or eight? That, I suppose, is another blog post for another time. The nine-day wonder that the Master of Suspense was referring to in this case was 3-D films.

     The film that Hitchcock came in on the ninth day to make was his first and only 3-D endeavor, as well as the topic of this installment of the Silly Nate Film Club! It’s the crime-thriller from 1954, Dial M for Murder!

     3-D, of course, has recently made a comeback, but if you ask me, we’re currently somewhere around day 8 or 9 in this now digital nine-day wonder. In order for a movie to be good, in my opinion, it has to have an almost timeless sense of longevity. Sure, every film is best when viewed for the first time on the big screen, but will it still be entertaining a year later when you catch it on cable? Or in the case of Dial M for Murder, over 50 years later? If the answer is yes, then it’s obviously a pretty good movie. You see, the same thing that was making movies good back in 1954 and earlier is the same thing that makes movies good today – writing, directing, and acting.  Sure, 3-D can be a really awesome addition to a film, but when you take away that third dimension and splice in a bunch of commercials for Zyrtec and The Walking Dead, it’s the writing, directing, and acting that will make you decide whether or not it’s worth the watch. In other words, 3-D isn’t necessary.

     It definitely isn’t necessary in the case of Dial M for Murder. In fact, I’m not sure how it was even used! The film is based on a stage play by Frederick Knott and takes place almost entirely inside a small apartment. It’s not exactly Pandora! There’s never any moment that I can think of where things seem to leap out at the audience, but rather several moments that definitely draw them in! Knott’s story of a cold and calculating gentleman meticulously plotting the perfect murder coincides perfectly with Hitchcock’s meticulous direction. The master’s superb use of lighting and charged objects is more captivating than the most epic of special effects!

     That’s the writing and directing. Then there’s the acting! Ray Milland plays Tony Wendice, a sinister Englishman that plans to murder his wife and inherit her fortune. Not once does Milland act like a villain. It’s actually the complete opposite. The audience knows he’s a villain, not because of how he acts, but because of what he says. We hear him lay out his entire plan. It’s this knowing what the other characters don’t while seeing Milland behave so gentlemanly that creates the extreme level of suspense.

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” – Alfred Hitchcock

     Wendice’s wife is played by the oh-so-lovely Grace Kelly. Now why would anyone possibly want to kill Grace Kelly… or rather… a fictional character that looks exactly like Grace Kelly? The woman was a saint! An angel! At the beginning of the film, we learn that her character is an adulteress. This is a pretty unforgivable thing, especially in 1954, yet even then she comes across as angelic! Somehow, nothing can corrupt her! Hitchock uses this appeal of Kelly’s to add even more to the suspense.

     I don’t want to give anything away in case there’s someone reading who hasn’t seen this 61-year-old movie, but there’s one scene in the film where all we see is a tight shot of Kelly’s face standing in front of solid red background. We hear a montage of people discussing vital plot points while all we see is Kelly reacting to the events being discussed. It’s a great piece of acting, writing and directing all in one long shot! Again, I have no idea what was ever 3-D about this film!

Oh. Before I finish, here are a few more random thoughts:

There He Is! – Alfred Hitchcock was a rather cheeky fellow that loved to play tricks on his audience. One thing he was famous for was sneaking in a shot of himself in most of his films. Audiences would go watch his movies and play a kind of Where's Waldo game... several years before they even knew what Where's Waldo was. This sort of thing is more common these days, but in Hitch’s day, not so much, at least, not with any other director. In Dial M for Murder, the Master of Suspense can be seen in a photograph sitting at a table with Ray Milland’s character and a bunch of other men. As far as the identity of those other men go… well, I guess no one really cares.

Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun – One particular character that I happen to enjoy is the staunch down-to-business Police Inspector Hubbard, played by John Williams. It’s incredible! Apparently Williams dabbled in acting before becoming one of the greatest Hollywood composers the industry has ever kno… What? Oh! My sources are telling me that this is a different John Williams. It is a pretty common name, I suppose. Never mind.

Rooting For The Bad Guy – Filmmakers do this sort of thing from time to time and I always think it’s impressive. There’s a moment in Dial M for Murder where the suspense builds, not from fearing the crime that’s about to take place but rather from fearing that the crime doesn’t take place. Tony Wendice’s entire plan revolves around him phoning his wife at a certain time. This way the killer knows she’ll be on the phone.  Much to his dismay, however, Wendice’s watch stops. He’s late! He rushes to the phone booth, but it’s occupied! The killer waits! Oh no! It’s not going to work! Then we’re all like, “Waitaminute! I like Grace Kelly! I don’t want this to work!” This ability to toy with our minds around each and every corner is what truly made Alfred Hitchcock the Master of Suspense.

“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” - Alfred Hitchcock

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