Dial M for Murder

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Dial M for Murder is one of my favorite movies (starring Grace Kelly). Our local repertory theatre chose it for their 2005 season, and I went to see it tonight.

All in all, I was very impressed. It's a small cast--four people with a policeman (the murdered guy doubled)--and a very talky script. The old ladies in back of me said, at intermission, "It'll speed up in the second Act, but they had to get all that exposition down." The old ladies had also seen the movie, and compared the play to it favorably: "They're sticking to the plot." Actually, I think the play came first, but sitting amongst classic movie watchers made me feel right at home.

The most difficult characters are the main female protagonist, Margo, and the boyfriend/lover, Mark (Max in the play). The main female protagonist is difficult because she has to come across as pliant but not wimpy. For those of you who have seen The Perfect Murder (the modern remake of the movie) with Gwyneth Paltrow, you'll know that Paltrow failed here. I have nothing against Paltrow in most roles; I actually think it was more the script's fault than the actress'. But any woman silly enough to not see through the snakiness of Michael Douglas' character doesn't deserve to be handling that much cash anyway. (See, I got a little Marxist in me.)

Grace Kelley could do this pliant yet tough, gentle yet strong, unsuspicous yet intelligent stuff with so little effort that the movie is a little frightening to watch. She just makes it look so easy. You forget she is acting. All the other parts, except for the boyfriend, are written a touch over the top, but the wife has to remain absolutely real; the audience has to be on her side, despite the fact that she is an adulteress. For a modern audience, that also means that she can't be a hysterical wuss.

The actress tonight, Monique Raymond, did a good job. In fact, if I didn't have to compare her to Grace Kelly (an unfair comparison for any actress), I'd say excellent. She wept a bit too much, which gets tiresome when there are only three people on stage. But after all, the character does get attacked and nearly killed by a strange man.

The boyfriend, Mark/Max, is difficult because he has to play the jilted, ex-lover who still hangs around, yet has just enough panache that you want Margo to go to him in the end. (The Gwyneth Paltrow version solved this by having the exceedingly scruffy boyfriend, Viggo Mortenson, kick over the traces.) Tonight's actor, Peter Brown, was good, but he was difficult to like. He played a much more bumptious, much more aggressive interpretation. It worked but barely. Robert Cummings of the movie plays the part with a kind of resigned, unself-pitying tenderness which makes him truly heroic.

All in all, it was a worthwhile evening. It's a good mystery. Not quite up to Agatha Christie standards, and I imagine most people would see through the killer's "mistake" pretty quickly. I didn't (the first time I saw the movie), but then I never try to guess. I didn't guess the end of Sixth Sense either.

I recommend the play version as well as the 1954 movie (but not the 1998 one).


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