M stands for murder and also for mindfuck in this, one of Hitchcock’s best films. Based on a stage play by Frederick Knott (whose credits also include another great thriller, Wait Until Dark), Dial M For Murder includes one of the most intricate plots of any murder mystery as well as maximum amounts of Hitchcock’s trademark suspense.
A quietly evil Ray Milland plays a cold fish who plots to kill his wife (Grace Kelly) for her insurance money. As he explains at the beginning of the movie, he also wants to commit the “perfect murder” – i.e. one that is complicated and dangerous, yet foolproof and never suspected. John Williams is the Scotland Yard inspector who may be onto him.
It doesn’t matter that the movie starts with a lengthy exposition… or even that the identity of the villain is revealed in the first twenty minutes. Dial M will pull you to the edge of whatever you’re sitting on and keep you there. (If you don’t pay attention, you won’t be able to follow all the twists and turns of the plot.) Hitchcock’s direction was never better. In fact, the film is a good model to follow for mystery directors; Hitchcock draws exactly the right amount of attention (but not too much) to the subtle actions and details that are crucial to the murder plot.
Dial M For Murder is not always regarded as one of Hitch’s best. Critics seem to prefer the more theatrical, psychological melodramas to the brainy whodunits. But pay no attention – this film is definitely a classic.
The new DVD includes two documentaries, one about the history of 3D filmmaking (in which the film was originally shot but can rarely be seen today).
Review by David Bezanson © 2004 filmcritic.com