Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings
Tag line: "Is this the man she was waiting for... or the man who was waiting for her?"
Trivia: Ranked #9 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 Greatest Mystery Films
Peter Bogdanovich once asked Alfred Hitchcock why he directed 1954’s Dial M for Murder, a thriller based on Frederick Knott’s successful stage play. The reply that he received was pure Hitchcock. “When the batteries are running dry”, he told Bogdanovich, “take a hit play and shoot it”.
Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), a retired tennis pro living in London, has recently learned that his wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), has been having an affair with an American named Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Fearing he’ll be tossed aside, and thus cut off from Margot’s vast fortune, Wendice devises a plan in which his wife will be murdered by a complete stranger, thus clearing the way for him to inherit all of her money. In order to set his scheme in motion, Wendice blackmails Charles Swan (Anthony Dawson), a former college acquaintance with a shady past, and coerces him into killing Margot one night while he's away. But when things go very wrong, Wendice quickly concoct a plan ‘B’, the success of which depends on his ability to convince a nosy Inspector named Hubbard (John Williams) that Margot herself may be guilty of murder.
Hitchcock’s first choice to play the tennis pro-turned-wife killer was Cary Grant, but having seen Dial M For Murder several times now, I can’t imagine anyone other than Ray Milland in the role. Milland is so devilishly calculating as Wendice, so deliciously deceitful, that I was entirely convinced his character had planned out the perfect murder. In fact, about 20 minutes of Dial M for Murder is dedicated to Wendice setting his diabolical plot in motion, first blackmailing Swan to carry out the killing, then explaining in full detail exactly how he wants his unwilling accomplice to pull it off. Wendice is smart, cunning and manipulative, and Milland is positively magnificent in this part. In him, Dial M For Murder has a lead who successfully conveys a dual personality, able to bring his character’s slimy disposition to the surface, yet concealing it perfectly behind a mask of flawless sophistication.
Dial M for Murder has been unfairly relegated to the level of ‘minor Hitchcock’, a film that the director himself, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, said he “could have phoned in”. It is a tribute to the Master of Suspense that, even when on cruise control, he was still able to thrill his audience so completely.