November 13, 2009

Dialing 'S' for 'Stagy'

When will everyone start to realize that Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 thriller Dial M for Murder just isn't the classic that it should be?

Sure, it has Grace Kelly, luminous as always. Sure it has a terrific murder scene featuring a strategically placed scissors. Sure it has some great camerawork and quintessentially Hitch angles (such as the "I'm Looking at the Action from Above" perspective).

But unfortunately, the film never works for me--perhaps because it's derived from the eponymous play by Frederick Knott (who also wrote the script). And I can't get past the fact that the action in the film almost always seems stage-bound, as if all the tricks in Hitch's book couldn't make the goings-on cinematic.

One thing I noticed on my most recent viewing of DMFM is that there are some interesting long takes that feature a heckuva lot of talking. And I mean a lot. This is a Hitchy-like thing to do as well; after all, he featured it in 1948's Rope. But Rope seems like more of an experiment, while DMFM just makes the impression (at least on me) that it's a misfire. It's too stagy, too confined. It seems the actors aren't allowed to breathe like they often do in the Master's greatest films.

And yet--although I don't have the statistics to prove it--DMFM seems to come up on TV more frequently than The 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes...two Hitchcock classics that use dialogue in the best, freest way possible, are completely cinematic (despite some camera trickery used to convey location) and are among the director's best films.

Something's rotten in the state of TV, methinks. But what else is new?


  1. I agree. While I enjoy "Dial..." it is far from my favorite. I think people find all of Hitch's films interesting merely because they are his, and we watch curiously to see what he will do, not so much what the actors on screen are doing. People watch his films for him, not his stars.

  2. That's often true, Meredith--I'm not sure anyone went to see "The Birds" because of Tippi Hedren. :-) And I do think "DMFM" has some nifty just doesn't fit into a cohesive whole.

    Hitch did do some clunkers, contrary to popular belief. ("Under Capricorn," a real horror, is one.) "DMFM" doesn't fall into that category, but it's kind of like listening to a second-rate song by The Beatles: It's good for anyone else, but you wish it could be up to their elevated standard. :-)

    - Simon