Films Revisited: Number 1
It’s BAFTA month, the perfect time to be stuck at home sick with a huge stack of screeners. I try to see most on the big screen but there’s no way you can see them all. So, stricken with man-flu and feeling pathetic, I thumb through a great choice of brand-new movies and put on – ‘Dial M For Murder’.
Why? I have no idea, except that I’m trying to nail the difference between suspense and mystery – and the problem with Hitchcock is that he totally crosses back and forth over the line. On the one hand we have a mystery; a cunning murderer with an opaque plan (all those damned keys!) and some dubious plot devices (he never locks the front door but always locks the lounge – who the hell does that?). On the other hand, we have suspense because we’re privy to more information than the victim.
But the genius of Hitchcock is that he switchbacks us from the charismatic villain (Milland) to the dull hero (Cummings) via Grace Kelly, who is virtually schizophrenic – first seen in virginal white with her husband, and immediately after in lurid red kissing her lover. Who do we root for? Well, Kelly is obviously stunning, but while it’s wrong for her husband to plan her death, why should we care for a blatent adulteress? We do, of course, because individual circumstances override conventional morality. Which is why I’m watching this and not, say, the new Harry Potter.
People should be shown to be perverse and uncontrollable. ‘Dial M’ is packed with tiny character touches – Milland throwing salt over his shoulder, Cummings over-eagerly trying to look through Milland’s cheque-book. Suspense and thrills without an explosion in sight.