Commentary Track

Dial M for Murder (1954)

This week on The Spectator Film Podcast…

Dial M for Murder (1954) 5.17.19
Players: Austin, Maxx

Commentary begins at 13:17

— Notes —

  • Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) edited by Slavoj Žižek — Here’s some of the better Lacanian criticism of Hitchcock, of which you can find a lot. I’d recommend this as a decent entry point for this type of scholarship – at least, as decent as you might find with Lacanian psychoanalysis. We relied upon some of the essays in this volume to better characterize the variety of Hitchcockian objects at play in Dial M for Murder and “Hitchcockian suspense.” The two most helpful essays for our conversation today were ‘Hitchcockian Suspense’ by Pascal Bonitzer and ‘Hitchcock’s Objects’ by Mladen Dolar – although we’ll borrow Žižek’s description of the “exchange objects” from the introduction here in the passages below:
    • On Hitchcockian Suspense
      • “Hitchcock’s films therefore work only if a natural order is presupposed. Everything is proceeding normally, according to routines that are ordinary, even humdrum and unthinking, until someone notices that an element in the whole, because of its inexplicable behavior, is a stain. The entire sequence of events unfolds from that point. The most characteristically Hitchcockian staging effects are always organized around such a stain. However, anything whatsoever may function as the stain inducing the gaze – the blood on the dress in Stage Fright; the glass of milk in Suspicion, ‘intensified’ by placing a small bulb inside of it; the black rectangle of the window in Rear Window and, within, that black rectangle, the red tip of the murderer’s cigarette, or, indeed, the plane in North by Northwest, which is at first no more than a speck in the sky” (20; Bonitzer).

      • “Hitchcock’s films are full of decent, ordinary petty-bourgeois people. These are masks. Thus, in The Lady Vanishes, the good Miss Froy, with her tea and meaningless chatter, is really a spy. All the others have something else to hide, a concealed point of abjection, which the perverse element, the visible but barely perceptible stain of crime, will reveal” (21; Bonitzer).

    • On Hitchcockian Objects
      • “But in a series of Hitchcock’s films, we find another type of object which is decidedly not indifferent, not pure absence: what matters here is precisely its presence, the material presence of a fragment of reality – it is a leftover, remnants which cannot be reduced to a network of formal relations proper to the symbolic structure. We can define this object as an object of exchange circulating among subjects, serving as a kind of guarantee, pawn, on their symbolic relationship. It is the role of the key in Notorious and Dial M for Murder, the role of the wedding ring in Shadow of a Doubt and Rear Window, the role of the lighter in Strangers on a Train, and even the role of the child circulating between the two couples, in The Man Who Knew Too Much. It is unique, non-specular – that is, it has no double, it escapes the dual mirror-relation, which is why it plays a crucial role in those very films that are built on a whole series of dual relations, each element having its mirror-counterpart… it is the one which has no counterpart, and that is why it must circulate between the opposite elements, as if in search of its proper place, lost from the very beginning” (6; Žižek)

  • ‘Dial M for Murder: Hitchcock frets not at his narrow room’ by David Bordwell from Observations on Film Art — Observations on Film Art, run by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, is without question one of the best, if not the best, film blog on the internet. It’s been active for years and has an incredible archive of articles and essays discussing all sorts of movies. This post on Dial M for Murder from Bordwell is characteristically insightful.
  • Martin Scorsese on Dial M for Murder — The Academy recorded a brief video introduction from Martin Scorsese on Dial M for Murder and it’s pretty cool!
  • Hitchcock by François Truffaut — Essential reading, despite the fact that all of two pages are dedicated to discussing Dial M for Murder.
  • Hitchcock’s Films Revisited by Robin Wood — Robin Wood barely discusses Dial M for Murder in this book, but it remains one of the best books written about Hitchcock’s movies.
  • Check out our Strangers on a Train episode for more resources on Alfred Hitchcock

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