Dial M for Murder is possibly the strangest film in Hitchcock’s body of work. The iconic director was always technically innovative and creative, but something about him jumping on the 1950s 3D craze feels bizarre. The format may have been imposed on him by Warner Bros., who he was under contract with for one more film. By the time it was released in theaters in 1954, the 3D craze had died down and Warner released it largely in 2D. Now, nearly 60 years later, Warner is transporting viewers back into Wendices’ living room and we all have front row seats to the murder. See how the Warner Bros Blu-ray 3D of Dial M for Murder fares after the jump.
Based on Frederick Knott‘s stage play, Dial M is a murderous tale of amorality and greed condensed in a single living room. The room belongs to Tony and Margot Wendice (Ray Milland and Grace Kelly). Tony is an aristocratic ex-tennis pro and Margot is an heiress who has fidelity issues. Her old flame Mark (Robert Cummings), a mystery writer, is in town and wants to reignite their romance. Tony acts chummy towards Mark and even insists that the two go out and enjoy themselves while he stays home. Ray Milland’s incredibly diabolical performance begins to shine once Margot and Mark leave the apartment.
Tony blackmails a small time hood named Swann (Anthony Dawson) into murdering Margot. This is after he secretly blackmails Margot with an intercepted love letter to Mark. Since Margot didn’t come clean about her affair, Tony’s next obvious move is to kill her. He lays the plan out to Swann. It’s a bit convoluted, involving a hidden key, a stolen stocking, and a well-timed phone call. Things get even more complex after Swann botches it and a volley of unforeseen circumstances fall into Tony’s lap.
Like I mentioned, Milland is one helluva snake-in-the grass. After the murder attempt, Margot becomes the chief suspect and Tony seems to revel in watching her sweat. Grace Kelly was never better than when she was working with Hitchcock (she was also in Hitchcock’s other 1954 thriller Rear Window) and she shines off the screen here. Her innocent temperament mixes well in this living room of serpents. No one has clean hands in this film. Even the London police tamper with evidence.
Hitchcock dismissed Dial M later in his career. He owed Warner Bros. a film and the studio probably forced him to shoot in tacky 3D. Appreciation for the film has grown over the decades though and deservedly so. It’s funny that Dial M is considered one of his “lesser films” – even by Hitchcock. It’s a sharp little thriller with fantastic performances under the firm direction of the master. He makes a single living room feel cinematic as hell. Now Warner Bros. has brought the 3D experience to home video, for better or for worse.
Both the 2D and 3D versions of Dial M for Murder are presented in 1.85:1 1080p with a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix. The colors are a mix of warm and vibrant, with Grace Kelly’s red dress impressively popping off of the screen. Close-ups look particularly sharp and the contrast remains strong. The murder scene lit by fireplace in particular looks fantastic. The 3D presentation is sadly underwhelming. It’s weird to imagine Hitchcock being enthusiastic about this fad but he does what he can. The murder scene is the only part that really stands out. The rest looks rather flat besides instances of props placed in the foreground.
Aside from a trailer, the only feature is “Hitchcock and Dial M” (22:00). It’s an appreciation for the film featuring Peter Bogdanovich, M. Night Shyamalan, and Richard Franklin (Psycho II). They talk about Hitchcock’s approach to shooting a play (which was basically don’t change anything, but shoot it smart), how the confined space works, and the use of color.
As lackluster as the 3D is, Hitchcock fans will definitely want to have this in their collection. For those just curious about the 3D for novelty’s sake, better of renting it.