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Dial W for Williams

Updated: Mar 11

I had to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder last night. I haven’t seen it in decades, and it’s the details I’ve forgotten about are impressive. The look of the film is fantastic with the lighting, sets, and simple shots. Naturally, it has a regal British air about it, characterized to the hilt by Grace Kelly and Ray Milland.

It co-stars Robert Cummings and John Williams, and Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard steals the show. From the start, without saying a thing, you know he knows what’s going on just by looking at Tony Wendice (Milland).

The compelling attraction of this film is the re-tracing of Tony's steps. He’s intelligent and effective at making points, but he can’t entirely sell his innocence in the end.

The film begins with Tony blackmailing former schoolmate Charles Swan to kill his wife, Margot (Kelly), whom he knows is having an affair. The dialog between the two is priceless. Milland is at his best, intellectually bullying Charles (Anthony Dawson) into going through with the hit.

Eventually, he is convinced, but the plot goes awry. This changes everything.

Now we have a cat and mouse thriller between Tony and Inspector Hubbard. Whenever Tony thinks he’s in the clear, the inspector shows up with a few more questions.

The cinematography is beautiful, with most of the action taking place inside the palatial “flat.” Dmitri Tiomkin’s score brings subtle terror to the characters' inner thoughts and perfectly compliments Robert Burks’ cinematography. We also get a clever Hitchcock cameo appearance.

I step away with the feeling of guilt building more robust throughout the film. I feel guilty for merely having watched it play out 70 years later.

John Williams is the moral savior in the middle of an otherwise unsavory group of characters. He dominates the action yet plays it dry, with some tremendously subtle glances of suspicion in the direction of others.

I will never forget John Williams as the Inspector. But I’ll remember him as the British gent on the commercial for 120 Music Masterpieces, which I still proudly covet. It was an excellent introduction to classical music for a kid.

Sorry for the quality, but here it is.

Remember the line, “I'm sure you recognize this lovely melody as 'Stranger in Paradise.’ But did you know that the original theme is from Polovtsian Dance No. 2 by Borodin?”

I didn’t, and I still don’t. But I’ll never forget.


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