Re-Watching the Classics: Dial M for Murder

I have been reviewing movies on this site for almost 10 months now and this is the first film I have looked at from one of the greatest directors of all time(some may say there is no question he is the greatest). I will have to say that Alfred Hitchcock is the reason I started watching classic film noir. I seen Rear Window and wanted to see more films like it and if it had Grace Kelly in it…all the better. This lead me to more Hitchcockian films and film noir. Some may argue this is not a film noir and they maybe right, it might be an early neo-noir? I’m not sure how you would classify it, all I know is it is noir.

This film is based on a play by Frederick Knott and was released in 1954. It revolves around a very small cast of characters with most of it taking place in a small apartment in England. The film starts out with Tony, played by Ray Milland and Margot played by Grace Kelly in what appears to be a happy marriage. This scene even has background music more akin to a Walt Disney movie then a Hitchcock film. After we see the kissing couple we go to the next scene with Margot kissing…a different man. This man is crime writer Mark Halliday played by Robert Cummings. This film has great dialog to tell the story as we find out Margot and Mark had an affair and Margot would have left her husband, but he has changed since Mark has been gone and now she is conflicted. In the next scene Tony has Lesgate (or is it Swann?) played by Anthony Dawson, come to the apartment to talk about selling his car. This is where Tony tells Lesgate his perfect murder and how and why Lesgate will kill his wife. When Tony and Mark go out to dinner, Tony steps away to call his boss, but he is really calling his wife so she will be in position to be murdered by Lesgate. When Margot fights back and kills Lesgate in self-defense, Tony has to change his plans, but this may still work for Tony.

When Chief Inspector Hubbard played by John Williams gets involved in the case the tension gets cranked up a notch. With Millard and Kelly at the top of their game and Hitchcock doing some of his best work I don’t think there is any question this is an all time classic and should be watched by every movie buff. I can not imagine any fan of noir not finding this film entertaining.

But, is this a classic film noir or not? This is part of the fun of the noir genre as it is a genre with a lot of different takes on how it is classified. Other genres you recognize as soon as you watch them, Westerns, Science Fiction and Horror are easy to spot. Some people will look at a film and call it a film noir and some might say it is just a crime film or a thriller or maybe a murder mystery. Here are some argument points for and against this being classified as a film noir.

FOR:

The main character of this film is a bad guy trying to pull off the perfect crime.

It has a very claustrophobic feel with most of the film taking place in a small apartment. Also both our main characters are prisoners in a marriage they do not want to be in anymore.

Characters like Margot and Lesgate have choices, but none of them are good. Tony also seems to be stuck in a situation he can not get out of, once Lesgate fails to complete Tony’s original plan.

This film does not have a happy ending for many of our characters, I will not go in-depth here because I do not want to spoil it for those that have not seen it yet.

Though Hitchcock used many techniques in filming this movie, he did go to the classic film noir well in quite a few scenes:

Like this one where he uses shadows and a fish eye point of view.

And the complete murder attempt is shot in the shadows and gives a very black and white feel.

AGAINST:

Some say film noir can not be filmed in color, though this is not the norm, I have seen a few films in color that are considered film noir by many.

Grace Kelly character isn’t a femme fatale. This is true and some say every film noir has to have one. I don’t like this rule, though I love a good femme fatale, I believe there are plenty of great film noir movies without one.

I would love to hear more points from you on FOR or AGAINST this being a film noir.  Leave your point of view in the comments below.

Favorite Tidbit: Though this is almost always shown in 2D it is actually Hitchcock’s first and only attempt at 3D and was completely filmed in stereoscopic 3D. Now this is a Blu-Ray 3D I would love to see released.

Update: This has been released on Blu-Ray 3D and is available.

Review: Fourteen Hours

14 Hours is a film noir from director Henry Hathaway and a screenplay by John Paxton based on a story by Joel Sayre.  The story revolves around a police officer played by Paul Douglas and a man on a ledge threatening suicide played by Richard Basehart.

This story starts with our police officer on the street giving out parking tickets when he notices a jumper on the ledge of a hotel.  He goes up to talk to him and is the first cop on the scene.  He talks to our jumper for a bit before the higher-ups get there and tell him to go back down on the street.  Our jumper soon says he will only talk to the original police officer so they go and find him on the street and bring him back up to the ledge. Will our hero flat foot cop be able to save the day and talk our jumper down?  Why is our jumper on the ledge?

Barbara Bel Geddes shows up as our jumpers girl and Agnes Moorhead also stands out as the over bearing mother of the jumper.

We also get some minor stories from the people down on the streets of New York.  This shows the effects of this spectacle on those folks.  One of these small sub plots is what made me so excited to see this.  We have Grace Kelly in her first film role, as a wife on her way to a lawyer’s office.  We see flashes of future brilliance here as the jumper has blocked traffic and made her late.  Then as she is across the street in the lawyer’s office she can see the jumper on the ledge out the window as she waits for her meeting to start.  I don’t know how I missed this film with her in it.  I went through a Grace Kelly phase after seeing Rear Window for the first time and had to see everything with her in it.  This one slipped under my radar some how.  I guess I still am in a Grace Kelly phase, but who isn’t?

Another sub-plot is the taxi drivers who are basically stuck in traffic and out of work for the day.  We also have a young women who would like to help but doesn’t know how.

The way this was filmed is really well done.  We have some great shots from the street up to the jumper and some from high up in the building down to the crowds on the street.  It has some very interesting cinematography worth checking out.

This is a slightly above average film and average film noir worth watching for Grace Kelly fans, even if it is a small role.  Classic noir fans will like it as well and those wanting to see what New York City looked like in the early 1950’s.

Favorite Tidbit:  Though 2012’s Man on a Ledge is not a remake, it does have a lot in common with this film.  Both take place in New York on a hotel ledge.  I also noticed a lot of the same quotes and similar actions of the New York crowd on the street.  Man on a Ledge is also a very good film I will have to re-watch and review it soon.