Whenever in doubt about what to write about for my Style in film series, I turn to an Alfred Hitchcock film, with the certainty that I will find all the style, in costumes and sets, colour symbolism and great camera play that I crave for. Dial M for Murder (1954) was Grace Kelly’s first Hitchcock film. She gives one of her best performances in this film, and, in fact, all the actors, not big stars at the time, are superb in it. The story is very simple: Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) wants to murder his wife, Margot, for the money. The movie, a straightforward adaptation of a stage play, takes place in a confined area, mainly a living room, but it’s so well crafted, that you don’t feel the need to leave the space for a change of scenery.
Alfred Hitchcock uses all the tricks he’s mastered over the years to get the public’s undivided attention, starting with the striking use of colour (this was only his third colour movie). He uses it in an interesting way in terms of costumes: you see Grace in a skirt and cardigan in the palest shade of pink, almost white, in the first scene, having breakfast with her husband, but she’s wearing bright red a few seconds later, in the company of her lover, Mark (Robert Cummings), and the contrast of those two moments, with the two men in her life, is very strong. Grace Kelly’s costumes were designed by Moss Mabry (Hitchcock had not yet begun his collaboration with Edith Head), who did a marvelous job at attaining that particular aesthetic that Edith Head would later develop in the director’s films.
I admit I sat up straight when I saw Grace Kelly’s posture in the image above. The elegance of the 1950s can not be surpassed, and it lay not only in the style of the clothes, but in a polished look altogether, manners and grace included. And Grace was the perfect example for that. In Dial M for Murder, she lights up the screen in every scene she’s in. Here, in head-to-toe red, from lipstick to the lace dress (in the most pure ’50s style) and the satin pumps. Hitchcock’s message is very clear indeed.
The finishing touch: the mink wrap.
A burgundy mid-calf, belted dress, matching lipstick and bag.
Another one of Hitchcock’s tricks in Dial M for Murder was the very subversive casting: a very charming villain, Ray Milland, in one of his best performances, so that he makes you want to identify with him, and a much less likeable good guy, Robert Cummings. And there’s John Williams, who plays the detective, one of the most likeable police investigators I’ve seen in movies: he’s delectable in his role and he’s responsible for the humour in the film, an element always present in Hitchcock’s works.
The decor is just as stylish, meticulously done and interesting to observe as the costumes in Hitchcock’s films.
In a very elegant grey dress with pleated skirt. Margot’s outfits go from bright to somber as her innocence starts to be questioned. As opposed to the colour palette of her previous clothes, which brought out her blue eyes, these faded colours are intelligently used to make her eyes look grey too, in tune with the grey days coming. Hitch always knew how to guide his audience through the story, and the dialogue was only one of the means he used.
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sources: Alfred Hitchcock: The Complete Films, by Paul Duncan, and the special features on this Dial M for Murder DVD, released by Warner Brothers
photos: screen stills from the film captured by me from this Alfred Hitchcock Blu-ray Collection