Never ones to miss a trick, Warner Bros. have re-released the Alfred Hitchcock classic Dial M for Murder on Blu-Ray 3D, to cash in on the current but slowly waning fad for three dimensional cinema and to remind viewers that 3D did exist before, and that Dial M was one of the first mainstream films to exploit it. Under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock, the 3D is artful and expertly deployed, but ultimately doesn’t really add anything to what is a film with a complex story, of twists and turns, made in a deceptively simple manner.
Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is an ex-pro tennis player, whose earnings on the circuit are dwindling. He lays a plan to blackmail an old acquaintance (Swann, played by Anthony Dawson) from university, who has now become a small-time crook, into killing his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) for her considerable life insurance. As you’d expect, things go awry and Wendice has to think and act fast to cover his tracks and deal with the police investigation.
The joy of the film is in its plotting – it’s not a complicated story, but one that is genuinely thrilling to watch unfold. What this film achieves is that rare feeling that you’re going into the film completely blind, unable and, perhaps, unwilling to try and second-guess the twists and turns it will make to get to its conclusion. Because of the mores of the time the film was made in, the villain must get his comeuppance, so that much is guaranteed. But how?
The Blu-ray rendering is crisp and bright, giving new life to Hitchcock’s inventive camera angles and perfect framing. Grace Kelly is radiant in what could have easily been a drab chamber piece about lust and death. By sticking rigidly to the formula set out by original playwright Frederick Knott, Hitchcock allows himself the same experimental bent that he utilised to great effect in both Rope and Rear Window – placing the vast majority of the action in a single room, which as a result increases the tension and claustrophobia felt by the viewer. While not as boldly experimental as Rope – the film is conceived as one 90 minute shot, but actually uses hidden cuts – it still shows that even on films where he himself says that he was “coasting”, the need to push the envelope was still there.
In the end we’re left with a great version of a classic film. How great the 3D is depends on your personal opinion of 3D in general. It’s not necessary for the enjoyment of the film, however, which still stands to this day.