Peter Bogdanovich begins the featurette, "Hitchcock and Dial M," by saying "I asked Hitchcock once why he had made 'Dial M For Murder,' and he said, 'When the batteries are running dry, take a hit play and shoot it." While Hitchcock's wit - wry and flippant at times - was evident in his well-organized responses to journalists, there's straight truth and logic in his choice to film Frederick Knott's hit play with very little tampering.
After the difficult production of "I Confess," Hitchcock took the challenge of directing a project without an elaborate chase sequence, and according to the interviewed subjects - including historian Robert Osborne, director M. Night Shyamalan, director Richard Franklin, daughter Patricia Hitchcock, and historian Richard Schickel - relished the minimal sets that forced the director to conceive carefully constructed suspense beats leading to the film's final jolt.
While faithful to the play's superb construction, "Dial M" is hardly an average Hitchcock film. Each of the interview subjects pretty much place the film as a worthy movie that still holds up and keeps viewers guessing. With a core cast of four characters, the dialogue had to be good; the cast, therefore had to be impeccable. Among affectionate portraits of the film's three leads, there's also a generous nod from writer/actor Nat Benchley to actor Anthony Dawson, who played the reluctant killer blackmailed by jealous Ray Milland.
"Dial M" is also unique for being Hitchcock's only film in 3-D, the faddish process that most studios tried out until audiences eschewed the glasses that sometimes caused headaches. The DVD's brief featurette gives a good overview of the process (simply demonstrated by "Jaws 3-D" director Joe Alves). And even though the clean source print for the DVD is 'flat,' there's enough odd angles and emphasized objects in the film that hint at how viewers were made to feel, as though they were sitting in a chaise, watching the tense drama unfold.
Indeed, while few 3-D prints survive today - something that's a tragedy, considering there were good 3-D films made during the craze - "Dial M" still makes the rounds at local rep cinemas, and is well worth seeing on the big screen. The prints may look faded and worn, but "Dial M" is further enhanced by the effects that can't be replicated in a living room environment. If anything, this new DVD should instill a renewed curiosity for the 3-D version.
Besides, with Grace Kelly in 3-D, the picture rocks.
This Warner Bros title is available separately or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection that includes: Strangers On A Train, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Suspicion, North By Northwest, Dial M For Murder, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, Stage Fright and I Confess.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan