Ray Milland was born on this day 108 years ago, and this veteran actor - who won a Best Actor Oscar for "The Lost Weekend" (1945) - starred in scores of films during his 56 year career.
So, this week's DVD Gem of the Week takes us back 59 years - and across the pond to England - to a memorable Milland performance in Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder."
Living with his beautiful wife, Margo (Grace Kelly), this former tennis pro lives a comfortable life in England, and Tony - an educated, sophisticated and sociable gentleman - seems to own everything life could possibly provide.
Unfortunately, appearances - such as enjoying a pleasant breakfast with Margo with sunny music playing in the background - deceive, because Margo had an affair with another man, an American television crime writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).
The extramarital relationship ended about a year ago, but time hasn’t healed Tony’s wounds.
Unbeknownst to Margot, he’s known about it for a long time, and rather than confront her, he seethes inside.
So much so, Tony plots out her murder.
This is the setup for Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of suspense in one of the master’s best films.
Hitchcock takes Frederick Knott’s savvy screenplay and brings the planning of a murder to life on the big screen.
Knott wrote a detailed and carefully thought out story which keeps us biting our nails and guessing throughout the picture.
Very early on, we know this murder attempt will take place, but the planning leading up to the homicide attempt bring stacks of tension.
With one year to conjure his dastardly scheme, Tony thought of every intricate detail and contingency, and Hitchcock presents him with such an air of confidence, the picture leads us to a certain and agonizing march to Margot’s doom.
It’s a brilliant play on our emotions, and the subsequent police investigation - led by Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) - of the events in the Wendice home (in the movie’s second act) have us guessing if Tony’s plan could be revealed.
Milland, Kelly and Williams give particularly great performances as they deliver pitch-perfect showcases of the scorned husband, the unsuspecting wife and the inquisitive detective, respectively.
Milland, in particular, carries the most challenging role by balancing Tony's cultured persona while concealing his complete disdain for Margot and Mark.
Although the nerve-racking crescendo in the Wendice flat certainly deserves its rightful place as a certifiable classic moment in cinematic history, without Tony’s commanding and slick-talking explanations and reasons for his scheme, the picture wouldn’t carry the bite it certainly holds.
For any fans of this genre, "Dial M for Murder" is a must-see.
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