Rooting for the killer in “Dial M for Murder”

Was I the only one who wanted Grace Kelly murdered in “Dial M for Murder”?

Grace Kelly is about the strangled in Dial M for Murder.

*Creative Commons Dial M for Murder – Still – 1954 by movie-fan is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Part of the joy of watching an Alfred Hitchcock film is the chance to revel in his inner weirdness. He takes you out of the real world, along with its boring limitations and moral problems. Dial M for Murder is a fantastic example of this genius. Grace Kelly, the most elegant Hitchcock blonde, plays a character who’s about to be murdered by her greedy husband. And, surprisingly, I’m completely ok with it.

In fact, it’s almost as if I want the husband to kill her. From the beginning of the movie—when Ray Milland (playing the husband) sets up the perfect murder scheme against his rich, cheating wife—Alfred Hitchcock makes you feel as if you’re a part of the plan. Milland is letting you know what’s going on, and you’re ready to see it happen. When the husband runs into trouble, you feel scared for him, not of him. I believe Hitchcock was perfectly aware of this as he shot the film.

Now, here’s the problem. If you haven’t seen the movie (or have), you might be saying something like, “But it’s Grace Kelly, how could you root against such a delicate angel?” Maybe my response is only my own, but I can’t stand a single word she says throughout this entire movie. From her corny extra-marital affair, to the annoying way she bats her eyes at her mystery-writer boyfriend, it’s hard for me to find sympathy for her. Even as she’s being strangled with a scarf.

Poster image for Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder.

*Creative Commons Dial M for Murder (1954) by twm1340 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Does this make me callous? No. In movies and fiction in general, the morals you have in the real word don’t apply to the plot. If it did, you would hate Dexter Morgan for being a serial killer, you would scold the Great Gatsby for being a lying money-whore, and you would loathe Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind) for being a racist southern brat. How many of you actually hate any of these characters? Think about this before you dismiss my preference for the murderous husband instead of the cheating wife. Here’s why:

  1. He’s more interesting. Ray Milland is a conniving genius who plans a perfect murder in such detail that you can’t help but admire him.
  2. He’s the main character. You see his perspective more than any other character. As I mentioned before, Alfie sets up the plot in a way that makes you feel like you’re his partner in crime. And it’s fun.
  3. Grace Kelly is annoying. Let me rephrase. Her character is annoying (sorry to any Princess Grace fans). She’s whiny, self-involved, cheesy, and too loaded to feel sorry for. Her cornball affair with Robert Cummings is sickly sweet. So the ugly husband is scheming against the rich, unfaithful Barbie wife—not exactly the story of Precious.

My theory is that Alfred Hitchcock wanted the audience to feel this comradery for the killer, at least in part. If you know anything about Hitch, you know he loves to change the rules and expectations. This is part of the reason why we all love his directing. I choose to embrace his wickedness when watching his films. It makes it more mind-bending and thrilling. Of course, I know this charming evil does not transfer to real life (if it did, you’d be O.J. Simpson). Still, try watching this movie from that shady perspective. It’ll expand your mind—probably to a point where you wish the tennis-playing murderer got his happy ending.

Why Tippi Hedren’s Sexual Allegations Are Ridiculous

*Creative Commons Tippi Costume Screencaptures by the foxling is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

*Creative Commons Tippi Costume Screencaptures by the foxling is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When HBO released The Girl, a film “exploring” Alfred Hitchcock’s sexual obsession with Tippi Hedren, I’ll admit I was curious.  I’ve been a fan of the director most of my life (as well as The Birds and Marnie), and the claims against him were too juicy to ignore—e.g. stalking Hedren, groping her in a limo, thrusting violent birds at her face, etc.  So I watched the movie.

And now the world makes sense again.

After watching it, you begin to realize that Tippi had HBO in the palm of her bird-slapping hand.  The whole film was a glorifying depiction of the actress, her painful story, and her heroic triumph against the evil Alfred. Not only was Hitchcock portrayed as a repulsive sexual predator, he was also a sad, self-loathing impotent.  At one point he’s crying to his assistant director, saying that he would give up his fame, glory, and everything . . . if only he could be handsome.  This was one of the many moments during the film that I wanted to vomit in my popcorn bowl.  As if Alfred Hitchcock, one of the most brilliant directors in history, would care that he wasn’t a Chippendales dancer.

A little research into Tippi Hedren’s sexual predator claims will show you that her story is false.  Besides Tippi herself, the only other person who “corroborated” the details of the film was a man named Jim Brown (Hitchcock’s assistant director and right-hand man).  Brown, however, died before the film was finished.  According to the makers of The Girl, Brown confirmed all of Tippi’s hideous details about Alfred Hitchcock.  There’s only one problem with this corroboration—it didn’t happen.

According to Brown’s widow, Brown agreed to be interviewed for what he thought would be an affectionate portrayal of the director.  Mrs. Brown said she never once heard her husband mention any sexual allegations, and she was completely sure that he wouldn’t have supported Tippi’s claims. And, apparently, the grieving widow is pretty pissed about these lies that HBO spread by exploiting her husband’s death.

Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren on the set of The Birds.

*Creative Commons Alfred Hitchcock & Tippi Hedren on set of The Birds by thefoxling is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Maybe Tippi Hedren is telling the truth.  Maybe it was fun for her to talk about the good ole days when she was young and beautiful and men were dying to throw glass in her face.  Who knows?  What we do know, is simple.  None of the other Hitchcock leading ladies have brought up sexual predator charges against Alfred Hitchcock.  Most of these actresses who are still alive have even come out against Tippi Hedren and her accusations.  Kim Novak, lead actress of Vertigo, said she “did not find him to be weird at all. I never saw him make a pass at anybody or act strange to anybody.”  Louise Latham, the actress who played Tippi’s mother in Marnie, said she saw absolutely no evidence of harassment on the set.

And yet, when someone’s been dead for 30+ years, its pretty easy to throw crap on their grave.  Tippi Hedren has mastered this art—which is good, because she really didn’t master much of an acting ability.  Wikipedia calls this movie a “partially fictionalized account” of Tippi and Hitch’s relationship.  Partially, however, is a gigantic exaggeration.  HBO’s The Girl is about as factual as Syfy’s Sharknado.  The reality is simple: Tippi Hedren is a liar.  A flaxen-haired, Hitch-smearing liar.  All this considered, and Alfred Hitchcock didn’t even murder any of her characters.

Ungrateful much?

Feel free to comment with sharp criticism, interesting insights, or glorious praise. Whichever the case, do yourself a favor and watch The BirdsIt’ll be refreshing to see an actually decent film.

“Vertigo”—From box-office failure to Best Film of All Time

Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart filming Vertigo by the San Francisco Bridge.

*Creative Commons Vertigo_00243 by thefoxling is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

For 50 solid years, the majority of critics have agreed on the greatest movie of all time: Citizen Kane. Finally, this agreement has shattered, and the film that replaced it is one that undoubtedly deserves the title. Alfred Hitchcock’s once forgotten Cinderella—Vertigo (1958)pushed through a moment of box-office shame to eventually become the most renowned movie of our time.

How did this happen?

If you were born in the latter half the 20th Century, this may be harder to grasp. I’m one of these people, so I understand the shock. Vertigo is one of the most complex, thrilling, and haunting pieces of film ever made. It’s hard to comprehend how a generation of movie-goers could watch this movie and not be completely in love with it. This is evident if you’ve ever seen the film.

However, there are some major factors that can possibly explain Vertigo’s disappointment at the box office. Here are a few:

  1. It was the 1950s. Need I say more? American culture was dramatically different than it is now. Men were men, women were women, and blacks had to drink at different water fountains. Some people call it the Nifty Fifties. I like to call it The Land Before Reality Kicked In. This is the case with Vertigo’s release in 1958. Audiences were too conservative to take in the amoral motives and erotic tension in the plot. They wanted a simple good guy and simple bad guy, because it’s easier to take in. I realize this is a broad generalization of people at that time, so feel free to contradict me if you were one of those original viewers in ’58.
  2. Sex. For the 1950s, Alfred Hitchcock was about as explicit as you could get with the sexual allusions. When Judy (Kim Novak) finally pulls back her newly blonde hair—and Jimmy Stewart then ravenously kisses her in the apartment—the next scene instantly cuts to Jimmy on the bed, with a satisfied smile on his face. Or maybe he just likes beds. Anyway, this was controversial in 1958 because sex wasn’t invented until the 1960s.

    A naked Kim Novak glares at Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo.

    *Creative Commons Vertigo_00277 by thefoxling is lincensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

  3. The romance wasn’t normal. (Spoiler alert – don’t read this paragraph if you haven’t seen the film) Instead of the usual romantic thriller narrative that Hitchcock is known for, Vertigo is a love story on acid. The mysterious little blonde girl that Jimmy falls in love with, turns out to be a fraudulent ginger and accomplice to a wife murderer (the fraudulent part of her story leads Jimmy into a sanitarium). And, in order for Jimmy to truly fall in love with her real ginger self, she has to completely transform back into the blonde women that he thinks is dead. Complicated? Yes. But love is complicated? Not compared to this.

Note: Some of these edgy traits that caused poor viewership in ‘58 are part of why I believe it is so successful today.

Sadly, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t see it this way. For the most part, he chose to blame the failure on the age of Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was 50 at the time, and Kim Novak was only 25. Hitchcock said the age difference made the relationship unbelievable. This is one instance where I think the director was off-base. I’ve watched this movie many times, and I’ve never considered the age difference at all. Because of this misplaced blame, Alfred Hitchcock chose not to cast Jimmy Stewart in North by Northwest, even though Stewart really wanted it. I guess even a genius like Hitchcock can be blatantly stupid sometimes. I think that’s the case here. Vertigo is a masterpiece, which is why critics voted it The Best Film of All Time in 2012. It failed in ’58 because the plot was decades ahead of its time—not because Stewart was decades ahead of Kim Novak.