Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Do we laugh for poor Margot, or with her?

Poor Margot Mary Wendice, how few of us
are ever tempted to think, given her un-
canny incompetence. Having failed to be
strangled the first time, by garotte pro-
cured by her husband, she slithers out of
the knot the Crown's arranged as her pun-
ishment. And yet, to watch Dial M for Mur-
der with the mirth with which it was made,
these days, seems to call for an almost
Presidential scale of denial, of doing any
such thing. Still, how many survivors of
two such accidental acts of justice do we
know, in our unanimously censorious times,
who have the sang froid to accept a con-
gratulatory highball of Scotch from the
loser in these trials, a spouse culpable  
of both of them? Yet who, apart from a
very ugly American, would ever interpret
her acceptance, I suppose I could do with
something, as proof she had asked for it?

Poor Margot's incapacity to satisfy the
pangs of affront she excites, arising
first from her adulteries before a mer-
rily neglectful husband, and next from
the inadequacy of bruising about her
quite elegantly tempered neck, in the
eyes of the law, is suspiciously allied
to certain felicities of genetics, cou-
ture, deportment, carriage and voice
without which the British craft of com-
edy would sink like a stone, if she ev-
er were to bolt the corral for a casino.
It isn't enough to deliver a line per-
suasively, which Margot seems never able
to do; one has to make the line go away,
or rather to sink its hook in disbelief.

For this sleight of hand Hitchcock
floods the set of a West End London
drawing room with eight blue eyes,
and they all belong to Margot. Two
are her husband's, two her beau's,
two for the inspector, and two il-
luminate a face that absorbs them.
Their job is to subject her to in-
fractions. Hers is to play nice.
At last (one can almost hear the
screen call out), in his first of
three pictures with this Margot,

Everyone allows the director his
boast of taking it easy with this
picture, of simply lifting a hit
play from the stage and celebrat-
ing its own structure with his
inspired camera angles. But when
in doubt, one goes with Truffaut,
who confessed to Hitchcock, in
their famous interview in LA, he
might allow that the film lacked
importance, but he could not re-
sist revisiting it with pleasure.

It will do nobody any good these
days, to publish a kind of approv-
al of this picture or its methods.
Ah, but for those to whom doing
themselves some good makes for a
superfluous conversation, we re-
member Margot's advice to Tony,
before her first strangulation -

Don't make the martinis too watery.

Alfred Hitchcock
Frederick Knott
  and Alfred Hitchcock
Robert Burks
Dial M for Murder
Warner Brothers, 1954©

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