Dial M for Murder (1954): Hitchcock Thriller Starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly

“Dial M for Murder” is a second-tier Hitchcock, mostly known today for its star performance by Grace Kelly and for its technical production values.

Even so, the movie is so sleek, so well acted, and so lightly entertaining that we disregard its narrative and structural shortcomings.

Ray Milland, not a characteristic Hitchcock thespian, plays Tony Wendice, a greedy playboy whose wealth has come entirely through his marriage to the chic and beautiful heiress, Margo (played by Hollywood’s hottest actress of the time, Grace Kelly).

When Tony fears he’ll lose her riches to American mystery writer Cummings, he plots to kill her. Milland contacts Dawson, an old acquaintance from college now a criminal, and blackmails him into killing his wife while he is away.

However, Tony’s plan misfires, when the murder plans go awry, leading to a thorough questioning from the crafty inspector Williams.

Based on the successful play by Frederick Knott, this adaptation was essentially treated as an assignment by Hitchcock, who had already begun to work on “Rear Window,” also released in 1954 (and would become one of his masterpieces).

Studio mogul Jack Warner insisted that Hitchcock shoots the picture in 3D, which presented a lot of limitations for the maestro. For his part, Hitchcock focused his attention on his new favorite actress, Kelly, with whom he would work again on his next two films, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief.

Repeating his stage role as the Scotland Yard inspector, Hubbard, is John Williams, who excels among the cast. Williams has most of the text’s witty lines. At one point, he tells the husband, “The trouble with these latchkeys is that they’re all alike,” when the key becomes the ”key” to the whole mystery.

Williams tells Mark Holliday (Bob Cummings), who’s Margo’s lover: “They talk about flat-footed policemen. May the saint protect us from the gifted amateur.”

Although the 3D version has hardly been seen, it does contain one of the best uses of the added dimension as Kelly, while being attacked, reaches “into the audience,” desperately searching for a weapon—scissors–to defend herself.

The opening credit sequence of a finger dialing “M” on a telephone is, because of the problems of getting close focus with 3D, actually a giant dial and a large wooden finger which Hitchcock had constructed.

The tale has been remade several times for both the small and big screen.