Alfred Hitchcock was not a filmmaker known for following trends, so it came as a surprise to many when he presented Dial M For Murder in 3D. The studio, Warner Brothers, wanted to capitalise on the early 50's trend for 3D movies. Audiences were curious about this technology and box office receipts were on the up in the fight back against new and alternative forms of entertainment, namely television.
Despite being finished in 1953, by the time the film was released in 1954 (they had to wait until the play it was based on had closed on Broadway) the new fad was on the wane. Many cinemas had ceased showing 3D films as it was felt that the picture quality suffered as a result of the new gimmick. Hitchcock said of this new format that "it's a nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day.” Most original audiences only saw the 2D version.
Although Hitchcock had predicted the demise of 3D, when charged with the objective of making a 3D film, he set out to make the best possible use of the format. Watching the film today you can see how his use of 3D enhances the sense of drama in the story – his subtle mastery perhaps still unbeaten, even by modern 3D films. He used many low angle shots, designed to give the film a depth and a sense of theatricality in the claustrophobic set. This is most evident in the famous murder scene. His innovative use of perspective and the breaking down of the fourth wall makes Dial M for Murder an immersive cinematic experience.
There was a successful rerelease of the film in the early 1980s, but this used dated 3D technology. Fast forward to the digital cinema age, we've thrown away the uncomfortable red and green cardboard glasses and dirt and scratches no longer detract from the image. Hitchcock's masterpiece can now be seen in better quality than ever before, as we present an accurate and faithful representation of what he intended the world to see nearly sixty years ago.
Restoring the film and creating the modern 3D image of Dial M For Murder was a long and painstaking process. Starting in August 2011, the team at Warner Brothers, headed by Ned Price, created a 4K scan of every frame of the original 35mm elements, faithfully restoring the colours to the original palette and carefully correcting any 3D misalignment, all with careful consideration and respect of the source material.
There were many new technologies used in making Dial M For Murder, including a 3D camera so bulky that it restricted the ability of the director to move it and a new film stock that Warner had devised. Even shooting in 3D required new techniques because the two "eye” lines meant that convergence in a shot did not follow the usual standards. All these created challenges for the Warner restoration team and over a year's work went into what you now see on the screen. A recent review from the New York Times sums it up:
Dial M For Murder is a tasty blend of elegance and suspense casting Grace Kelly, Ray Milland and Robert Cummings as the points of a romantic triangle. Kelly won the New York Film Critics and National Board of Review Best Actress Awards for this and two other acclaimed 1954 performances. She loves Cummings; her husband Milland plots her murder. But when he dials a Mayfair exchange to set the plot in motion, his right number gets the wrong answer - and gleaming scissors become a deadly weapon. Dial "M" for the Master of Suspense at his most stylish.
Now available for booking on DCP for exhibition after the European premiere of the restoration at the Berlin Film Festival this February.
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Other Hitchcock titles available for booking from Park Circus
An in-depth look at Hitchcock's use of 3D in Dial M (external article)
Further reading on Dial M (external article)
Images: Copyright WB Pictures 1954. All rights reserved