Dial M for Murder (1954)

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Released 2-Mar-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Hitchcock And Dial M
Featurette-3D: A Brief History
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1954
Running Time 101:04
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (52:06) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Ray Milland
Grace Kelly
Robert Cummings
John Williams
Anthony Dawson
Leo Britt
Patrick Allen
George Leigh
George Alderson
Robin Hughes
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Dimitri Tiomkin


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    This film is the best known of the four films included in the newly released Warner Home Video collection of Alfred Hitchcock films made for Warners between 1950 and 1957, and the only one in colour. They are not available separately. The reviews of the first three films I reviewed from this set are here: Stage FrightI Confess and The Wrong Man. As I divulge in those reviews, I am a lover of Hitchcock's work.

    Dial M for Murder is classic Hitchcock and probably the best of the films in this box set. It is one of Hitchcock's more theatrical films, which considering that it is a filmed stage play, should not be very surprising. The action basically takes place in one room, with only small sections outside of the room. Even those are mostly the view from the window or one of the adjoining rooms. Despite this seemingly confined viewpoint, Hitchcock has made a film which is riveting from start to finish. It is full of great performances, great dialogue, interesting camera angles and excellent use of shadows. In this regard it bears some similarities to Rope, the earlier Hitchcock film also made in one room, although the stories are quite different. In inimitable Hitchcock style, there are some funny jokes included such as the policeman walking away with Margot's handbag. There are also some other interesting visual motifs such as the telephone dial close-ups, the sequence when Margot is on trial and the use of colours, especially with regard to Grace Kelly.

    Interestingly, this film was made during the initial craze for 3D movies and was made for 3D. Hitchcock, sensibly, used the 3D effects quite minimally. You can see parts of the film which would have jumped out at you in 3D such as Grace Kelly's hand during the murder scene and the key as Ray Milland hands it to the camera. The DVD is in normal 2D which is how the film was mostly shown after a short initial run in 3D. It would seem the choice to make the film 3D was not Hitchcock's but the studio's. Besides the 3D effects, this is one of Hitchcock's less showy films with less of the elaborate set pieces that other films like Strangers on a Train have. The effects here are more subtle but no less powerful. A perfect example is the use of shadows to show the adulterous couple moving away from each other when the husband returns.

    The plot itself is key to this film's success and Hitchcock based the film on a play by Frederick Knott that had been popular just before the film was made. The story is set in London and involves an ex-tennis player who has recently hung up his racquets, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland). He discovers that his wife, Margot (the luminous Grace Kelly), has been having an affair with an American friend of hers, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), who arrives at the beginning of the film for a visit to London. Wendice decides to have his wife killed both for her infidelity and for her money, as he does not have much himself. He concocts an elaborate scheme which involves both Halliday and an old college acquaintance of his, Charles Swann, AKA Capt Lesgate (Anthony Dawson). He believes his scheme to be the perfect murder and is very confident about it working but, of course, everything does not go according to plan and soon he is having to react to changing conditions as they occur. The only other important character is the investigating policeman, Chief Inspector Hubbard (wonderfully played by John Williams, a Hitchcock regular). The ending is excellent and the movie holds your attention from start to finish even when you have seen it before (as I had).

    Hitchcock's appearance is a bit different in this film, as he only appears in a photograph rather than in person. The photo is shown at 12:50 and he appears on the left hand side. Once again the casting is excellent as are the performances, particularly Ray Milland as the ice cold and intelligent Tony Wendice. One interesting piece of trivia about this film is the intermission which occurs at the half-way point of what is quite a short film. The featurettes reveal that this was necessary in a 3D film to allow for reloading of the projectors, as two projectors were used to project a 3D film.

    A classic Hitchcock to round out the box set.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video quality is very good for a film of this vintage but does show some residue of its 3D origins. It is also not in the original aspect ratio.

    The feature is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio 16x9 enhanced which is not the original aspect ratio. This film was originally made in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and has been cropped to the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. I have read that it was sometimes shown in widescreen theatrically. The Region 1 NTSC transfer is in 1.33:1 full frame. Personally, this did not really bother me, but you will have to decide for yourself. As per our site's policy I will remove 1 star from the overall video rating for not being in the correct aspect ratio.

    The picture was clear and sharp throughout despite the light grain (heavy during outdoor superimposed sequences), with no evidence of low level noise. The shadow detail was pretty good, however some scenes were designed to have impenetrable shadows. The outdoor pieces mentioned above were also softer than the other footage.

    The colour is very good and quite vibrant, surprisingly so for a film of this age, especially Grace Kelly's red dress. The skins tones were very good. This is the only colour film in the box set.

    Artefacts were present as you would expect with a film of this age, however they were quite minimal with the exception of some quite noticeable haloing around various people. This was particularly noticeable early in the film on Ray Milland. It is my understanding that this could be an artefact from the transfer from 3D to 2D. There was also some telecine wobble during the titles, some white specks here and there and one white line at 65:15. I also noticed one very minor MPEG artefact, being a jagged edge on a tie, but now I'm just being picky.

    There are subtitles in 6 languages including English and also English & Italian for the hearing impaired. The English subtitles were clear, easy to read and very close to the spoken word.

    The layer change occurs at 52:06 and is very well hidden during the intermission.
    

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio quality is reasonable and in the original mono.

    This DVD contains three audio options, an English Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 Kb/s and the same in French & Italian.

    Dialogue was clear and easy to understand and there were no  problems with audio sync.

    The score of this film by Dimitri Tiomkin is excellent, and definitely one of his best for Hitchcock. It is by turns romantic or suspenseful depending upon the onscreen action. Unfortunately, the transfer reveals significant distortion in the music, especially during louder passages such as the opening credits. This is disappointing.

    The surround speakers and subwoofer were not used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menu included stills, and the ability to select scenes, languages and subtitles. The menu includes a nice scissor motif for cursor position and is well designed.

Hitchcock and Dial M (21:35)

    Similar in format to the documentaries on the first three discs but with very little in the way of interesting insights which is disappointing. Features interviews with a number of film historians, Patricia Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan. A lot of the running time is taken up with scenes from the film. Made in 2004. Reasonable but the least interesting of the four documentaries in the box set.

3D : A Brief History (7:07)

    Much more interesting than the main documentary, this featurette covers the history of 3D in Hollywood including some technical information about how 3D films were made and projected. Includes an interview snippet with the director of Jaws 3D. Well worth a look.

Theatrical Trailer (2:29)

    Not a bad trailer, but a product of its time. Shows what a good job has been done with the video transfer in terms of sharpness and artefacts.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of this film is one of the 9 films in the equivalent box set in Region 1. On that disc is it in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, much closer to the original 1.37:1 than our release. Obviously the Region 1 release is in NTSC, however this is definitely outweighed by being in the correct ratio. Region 1 is the winner here as it contains the same extras. According to DVD Beaver, a 3D version is available on DVD, which would certainly be interesting to see. The Region 2 release is the same as ours.

Summary

    A Hitchcock classic, probably the pick of the box set.

    The video quality is very good but is not in the original aspect ratio.

    The audio quality is reasonable and in the original mono.

    The disc has a small selection of interesting extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV667A DVD-V DVD-A SACD, using Component output
DisplaySony FD Trinitron Wega KV-AR34M36 80cm. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersBose 201 Direct Reflecting (Front), Phillips SB680V (Surround), Phillips MX731 (Center), Yamaha YST SW90 (Sub)

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