‘Dial M’ offers gift of serendipity’

Synchronicity hits the boards and the big screen at the same time this June in Houston.

Dial M For Murder will be presented in its original format of a stage play at the Alley Theatre. During the same time the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film will unwind the first two Sundays in June at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. While it may seem like a coordinated effort the timing is happenstance.

Dial M For Murder was originally performed on BBC Television in 1952 followed by a stage production that summer at the Westminster Theatre in London’s West End. A New York premiere followed later that same year. The author Frederick Knott adapted his play into an eventual screenplay.

(There’s actually an indie rock band from Oslo that formed less than twenty years ago called Dial M For Murder! but it would be too much to hope for a Dial M Trifecta where that group played at a local venue.)

“It wasn’t planned at all,” says Rob Melrose, Artistic Director of the Alley Theatre.

The play is directed by Tatiana Pandialini whose work has been produced on Broadway, Yale, and Dallas Theatre Center, as well as the Alley’s recent production of Torera.

“She’s has a tremendous style, says Melrose. “She has a design team she’s used to working with. They hit it out of the park with Torera. This production they are creating is unique. There’s a beautiful set and these giant red letters that spell out murder descend on the stage at different times.”

A modern update to the casting assures audiences this is not their father’s Dial M For Murder.

“I saw the 3D version of Dial M for Murder as a child, and it was the first 3D movie I had ever seen; I was thrilled by it, “ says Melrose.

“Whenever you see photos of audiences in the 1950s and they all have their 3D glasses on. I thought that image was so cool and I’ve always wanted to recreate that. I wasn’t there because of Hitchcock or that it was a thriller, I was there for the 3D experience.

“But now as an adult and running the Alley I have been steeped in Hitchcock, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, red herrings, and mystery plots,” says Melrose. To wit the new Alley season will include a play by Christie, and one featuring Sherlock Holmes.

The Alley’s production of Dial M For Murder runs May 31 – June 30, 2024.

Dial M For Murder falls into the category of 3D films made in a brief two-year span and released in 1953 and 1954. 3D historian Lawrence Kaufman notes that Warner Brothers after the success of House the Wax in 3D wanted to release more films in that format.

Kaufman in a Facebook article states: “It was Hitchcock’s last contractual movie at Warner Bros, filming Wednesday August 5, 1953 – Friday September 25, 1953, 36 days, weekdays only, shot for widescreen 1.85. (Hitchcock moved to Paramount and shot Rear Window beginning on November 27, 1953, for widescreen 1.66.) 

“During the thirty-six days of filming, he spent extra time on the stabbing scene to get the three-dimensional effect he sought. Wanting a close-up of the “M” on the telephone hand dial during the opening credits, Hitchcock had a large phone and wooden finger made.

“The movie previewed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 18, 1954 at the Randolph Theatre, Grace Kelly’s hometown. The premiere featured a 3D print, which also was shown to general audiences during the day on May 19th, but the theater switched to exhibiting only a 2D print that evening and for all subsequent showings.”

Dial M For Murder the film was never one of the go-to names for 3D filmmaking although it has had restorations and film festival screenings throughout the years. The 3D blu-ray is available through Warner Archives. In the 3D version when Grace Kelly is being strangled her arm stretches out and seems to extend into the audience. 3D photography from the 1950s somehow had a way of giving the image a depth you don’t see in modern 3D screenings, or even the 3D craze of the 1980s.

“We are glad to offer Houston audiences the opportunity to revisit this classic on screen at the MFAH in early June, in conjunction with  the stage production,  says Marian Luntz, Film Curator at the MFAH.

“We made a commitment to Lynn Wyatt to screen the three films her friend Grace Kelly made with Hitchcock in the Lynn Wyatt Theater,” adds Luntz.  “We’ve already shown Rear Window and To Catch a Thief, and it’s appropriate to screen Dial M for Murder in its 70th anniversary year, on 35mm.  The studio did not have it available on 3D.”

The MFAH will unwind Dial M For Murder on Sunday June 2 and Sunday June 9 at 5 pm.

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