Monday, February 11, 2013
Alfred Hitchcock | Dial M for Murder
key to the plotby Douglas Messerli
Frederick Knot (screenplay, based on his play), Alfred Hitchcock (director) Dial M for Murder / 1954
Despite the work’s absolute staginess—or, one might argue because of it—this film works, mostly because of Milland’s delicious ability to placidly prevaricate, Cummings’ boyish loyalty to Margot, and Kelly’s gift of simply radiating a confused beauty. And then there’s that hilariously complex plot to keep up all amused: Tony’s slow weekly withdrawals of bank funds to pay for the murder while hiding the fact from the police, his secret tracking of Swann, a shady character even in his schooldays who has committed numerous petty crimes against women before Wendice has tracked him down, and Tony’s voyeuristic stalking of the man at the dog races week after week. Add to that Tony’s accidental uncovering of Mark’s love letter to his wife, his fake blackmail attempts, the way he lures Mark into attending a stag party as a cover for his whereabouts the night of his wife’s murder, his planned-to-the-second telephone call to draw her out of the bedroom, etc. etc.—seemingly all for naught, since, when his watch stops, he’s late with the call, Swann nearly leaving, and Swann is murdered with scissors Tony has asked his wife to cut out articles from his past tennis career.
The only truly dramatic event of the film is the attempted murder, where Swann is poised over the intended victim almost as in act of sex before Margot, reaching for the scissors, thrusts them into his back, he impaling them even deeper with his fall to the floor. This scene is pure Hitchcock magic!
What follows is almost a purposeful unweaving of the whole fabric of Tony’s lies, as he redirects the very acts he has used to hide his involvement—including his silence on the phone, his insistence that she not immediately call the police, the discovery of money on the murdered man, and entry through the front door—upon his wife, freeing himself to guiltlessly end the relationship. Milland’s icy demeanor throughout makes him the perfect fiend.
There is only one small element that has escaped this monster’s attention. The key found in Swann’s pocket, returned by Tony to his wife’s purse, is not the key to their flat, but to Swann’s own. Swann, thoroughly obeying Tony’s orders, has faithfully returned the house key to the rug upon the staircase outside the door. Since the inspector has switched raincoats with Wendice, and Margot, asked to return home, has no way to enter the flat; when the now keyless Tony checks the staircase, he reveals his guilt by his very entry.
Even now, however, Milland as Tony retains his cool, pouring himself up a large drink before, presumably, going off to prison and his ultimate hanging.