Hitchcock Films: Dial M For Murder

Dial-M-for-Murder

I was more entertained by ‘Dial ‘M’ For Murder’ than I expected to be. I went into the film knowing that it isn’t considered to be a top-tier Hitchcock film. It doesn’t have the exciting thrills or the grandness of Hitchcock’s Cary Grant movies, but it’s a solidly constructed character piece.

The film takes place in a single apartment loft. It is essential for anyone interested in how to properly stage actors in close quarters for a long period of time: there isn’t a single shot duplicated throughout the run-time of the film.

The pure ingenuity of the camera movement is very apparent, considering that there’s only ten or so feet to work with in a cramped loft.
Hitchcock, his DP and crew discover new techniques to mask the moving camera or dolly, making a small, claustrophobic room feel like a vibrant, perpetually-changing wheelhouse.

It involves a man, Tony, an older ‘Edward G.Robinson’ kind of individual, who wants to execute a plan to kill his wife. His wife is also harboring a behind-the-curtains relationship with Mark Halliday, a younger, more exuberant character. It’s hard to believe that Tony doesn’t know about the cheating happening all around him. Mark is constantly hanging out at the loft, quietly flirting with his wife behind his back.

As the audience, we know who the murderer is from the very beginning: we see him orchestrate a detailed plan, and Hitchcock cares about making us care about the plans details. That way, when a pin drops and the plan doesn’t go as planned, we’ll know and be watching for it.

Tony plans to take his wife’s key to the loft and hide it underneath the staircase rug. He can use his own key to get into the apartment, thus proving he didn’t give away his key.

Tony hires an old friend to retrieve the key, open the apartment, and strangle his wife. The plan goes smoothly, no stains or residue left behind. No signs of a break-in or convenient marks to aid the detectives in their search.

Eventually, through all the grey area and intrigue, Tony’s plan breaks apart completely. He now must race to insure that nobody discovers the man he just recently hired to harm his wife. Among those fighting on the offensive against Tony is, naturally, Mark Halliday, the third angle of the triangle.

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Psycho

Pyscho changed the way America looked at movies, and how much they really could tolerate while sitting in them. For the majority, Psycho liberated the isolated horror genre, and created a world of mystery and deceit worth the price of a ticket. In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock weaves together a story in parts consisting of different characters and their points of view. The first is the unassuming Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, who steals money from her work and skips town in a hurry, only to find crossing the street her boss, his eyes prying into her guilt-stricken face; their she meets the cinema famous Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, who acts suspiciously, and then, murderously.

The main suspicion in the movie, placed almost subliminally by Hitchcock by way of the winding stairs on the hill, is the house where Norman’s mother resides. We see the silhouette of her torso and head in the top-left window, but never are the characters directly greeted by her. And while her mystery is peculiar, so is her son Norman’s behavior, who has an eerie boyish, suppressed attitude; he seems to be easily over-run and maybe vulnerable.  He cleans, replaces towels, and sustains the motel, even when he knows that they are located in such a desolate, rarely-visited place.

The rain pounding on the car, the windshield fiercely swiping it aside, is a classic scene of paranoia, and we feel almost in the mind of Marion, so intimate and revealing on an endless road of perturbed thoughts. Who knows what Hitchcock was trying to say about karma, but it must have been something. He displays several static shots of fear, like Norman’s bird collection, which somewhat wrongfully seems like a warning of his illness, though their is nothing really wrong with hunting birds. And then, the legendary shower scene itself, the moment where Marion is truly taken over. The rest of the film involves finding what has caused her to go missing, with our consciousness now streaming with the horror of the hotel, a form of dramatic irony for the horror genre.

Lila Crane, played by Vera Miles, and Sam Loomis, Lila’s boyfriend played by John Gavin, are now privately investigating the hotel, the sort of unknowing terror that modern horror films manipulate, in a more characteristically ignorant manner. The film is a masterpiece of terror and suspense, a convention-bending Hitchcock movie that won’t be forgotten in the swamps or the drain.