[This Halloween season, we're paying tribute to classic horror cinema by celebrating films released before 1970! Check back on Daily Dead this month for more retrospectives on classic horror films, and visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Halloween 2019 special features!]
Looking for more intrigue and thrills than shrieks and blood spills this Halloween season? We know that our readers have varying tastes in movie watching, and with only four more days left until the big day, may I suggest Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder (1954)? The film is just as over the top (in the best way) as the title suggests. It's got attempted murder, a double-crossing, a back-stabbing spouse, and it will keep you guessing from start to finish—all the makings of a good film noir crime drama.
In the 1950s, the effects of World War II were still felt by everyone involved, so it comes as no surprise that film in that time period would be changed as well. Cinematic subject matter got darker and more cynical as well as the performances in films. Film noir or "dark film" flourished throughout the 1940s and '50s with a number of standouts including Double Indemnity (1944) and Dial M For Murder (1954), for starters. The idea that a spouse, or anyone who is supposed to love you and protect you, is out to kill you for any reason is a horrifying thought. It is one of many reasons why the Investigation Discovery channel exists. Exploring these types of crimes that could happen to anyone may help us unpack our collective fear of betrayal and/or potentially understand a person's motives, and that’s exactly what Dial M for Murder does so well.
Based on the stage play written by English playwright Frederick Knott (who also wrote the screenplay), Dial M For Murder follows Tony (Ray Milland), a former professional tennis player, and his wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), during a night that will forever change both of their lives. Alfred Hitchcock once again flexes his suspense muscles by showing the audience just enough of what's going on before letting everything slowly play itself out.
Watching the beginnings of Ray's plot to kill Margot might make you angry, anxious, or sad, but it will definitely evoke your emotions. Watching him take her room key while she is occupied in the bathroom and then act like nothing is going on when she comes out still makes my blood boil. Perhaps the audience is supposed to sympathize with Ray because Margot cheated on him, but the punishment absolutely does not fit the crime here. As I'm sure you may have guessed, things don't go as planned and we gleefully get to watch Tony squirm for the better part of an hour and a half.
Another really good moment is when Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) shows up to ask the couple some questions. At first, you are certain that the inspector can see right through Tony's lies, only for it to not go at all the way you hoped. Of course, Dimitri Tiomkin's score is strategically playing at varying volumes in the background the entire time, enhancing the film’s ever-tightening tension.
Dial M For Murder was released over 50 years ago, and its echoes are still felt―especially in modern cinema. In 1981, a television film version starring Christopher Plummer and Angie Dickinson was released as well as a "spiritual remake" of sorts in 1998's A Perfect Murder, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas. Heck, there is even a Simpsons episode from 2008 called "Dial N for Nerder," in which the family deals with crime thriller/noir-type themes.
The backstabbing spouse or loved one is something that we all worry about, but what truly scares us is the thought that they might one day have more sinister plans. It may all feel very far-fetched, but it does happen every day for one reason or another, which makes Dial M for Murder a realistically chilling addition to your October viewing. In fact, make it a spooky double feature this Halloween and watch Dial M For Murder and then the slightly lighter in tone "Dial N For Nerder."
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