Tag Archives: Classic Thrillers

Dial M For Murder

Director Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of double-cross and intrigue stars Ray Milland as former tennis champ Tony Wendice, who concocts a plan to kill his rich but unfaithful wife (Grace Kelly), who’s embroiled in a liaison with a writer (Robert Cummings). When Tony’s plans go awry, he improvises a second act of deceit, but the entire bloody affair turns out to be far messier than he expected. John Williams plays a sly Scotland Yard inspector.

Rating: 9 out of 10

During my all too brief stint at NYU film school, our professor had us choose from four directors to do an essay on. Kurosawa, Ford, Kubrick and Hitchcock. I choose Hitchcock and I got a B+. Not too shabby for a dumb kid from the Bronx. I will be cliche for a moment and say that they don’t make films like this anymore.

Dial M was released in 1954 and it was, obviously, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It stars the classy and refined Ray Milland, the beautiful Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings as an American crime fiction author. The setting is England and we are witness to Milland and Kelly as a married couple. But something is askew here. Kelly is cheating on her hubby with Cummings. Milland knows what is going on and with an elaborate scheme in mind plans her demise. He first enlists an old college friend of his and concocts a way to blackmail him into doing the deed. While doing all of this, Milland is smooth, aloof and a bit scary. Kelly does an admirable job at playing the mousy and deceiving wife who has a bit of moral integrity as she does feel guilty about her affair.

Without giving away this brilliant plot it is safe to say that Milland’s crazy scheme to off his wife goes completely and utterly wrong. He underestimates his wife and in turn is thrust into a complex web of deception and close calls. This is what Hitch does best. The suspense here is killer as we watch Milland slowly and deliberately try to spin the blame away from him. Milland is amazing to watch. At some point we almost want him to get away with it but Hitch establishes that Milland is smarmy, snakey and charming with absolutely no redeeming qualities to speak off. Kelly and Cummings come to a realization that something is amiss and try to put all the pieces together. Milland, though, for the most part stays cool and collected until the very end when everything unravels accordingly.

Most of the on screen action takes place in the large, nicely decorated, living room where Kelly and Milland live. Here in this set up, Hitchcock shines and his camera work is involving and meticulous. As a Scotland Yard inspector comes on board, everyone stays cold and aloof while everything plays out. Only Cummings expresses that overly anxious American fervor as he tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. As pointed out by my pal, Shawn, we audience members make the same mistakes as the perp Milland does. Brilliant observation if I must say. This film is punctual in it’s outcome and very, very smart. Even if you are not a huge fan of Hitchcock, you may still want to see this elaborate thriller and see just how they don’t make them like this anymore.

The Andromeda Strain

A satellite crashes in New Mexico, prompting scientists to race against the clock to stop a deadly virus from spreading in this Oscar-nominated sci-fi classic based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name. The alien illness that sprang from the probe has already killed most of those living near the crash site, and now it’s up to a team of scientists to stop it. Note: Contains graphic scenes that may be unsuitable for young children.

Rating: 8 out of 10

When I reviewed “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” I lauded director Robert Wise for his phenomenal diversity in tackling the many genres that make up the pantheon of Hollywood films. I applaud Robert Wise once more for taking on what Stanley Kubrick had only done until “The Andromeda Strain.” The cerebral sci-fi film was released in 1971 and is based on the gripping novel of the same name by the late Micheal Crichton.

In fact it seems as if 2001 and Strain are almost polar opposites in design. 2001 is about mankind’s expansion and Strain is about the demise of man from a strong, super-bad virus from outer space. It comes piggy backed via a satellite that crashes and wipes out an entire town, save but only an infant and an old man.

The film follows the book closely and Robert Wise allows no pretention. There is a race on to catch a super germ from outer space and the feds need the scientists to catch it. We get very straight talking scientists and straight talking G-men in this cold and calculating geek-fest. There are many great elements, such as the art direction, which was nominated for an Oscar. Like MGM’s “Forbidden Planet” (soon to be reviewed), it has a complete electronic score by Gil Melle that is very cold and eerie. Composition and color stand out amazingly much like his work on Star Trek The Motion Picture.

Andromeda Strain is a great sci fi medical thriller but it’s possible scenario is what makes it hit home with many fans of the virus outbreak thrillers. Full of suspense and surprise I highly recommend “The Andromeda Strain.”