Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin introduced a newly restored 3D version of “Dial M for Murder” (1954) at the TCM Classic Film Festival with 1950s and 3D movie history. After sharing 3D stories behind this classic film, Leonard interviewed Alfred Hitchcock’s colleague Norman Lloyd (“Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, “Dead Poets Society”, “St Elsewhere”) at the Chinese Mann 6 Theaters in Hollywood, CA.
Grace Kelly, Ray Milland and Robert Cummings starred in this Alfred Hitchcock thriller about the “perfect murder.” It was a different experience to watch it in 3D, and hear the history behind-the-scenes from two Hollywood legends.
What most fans do not know is that “Dial M for Murder” was originally shot as a 3D film, and has just been recently restored by Warner Brothers. If you thought 3D was something new for the movies, think again. Leonard kicked off his introduction by sharing, “1953 was the year of 3D.”
Based on research from 3Dfilmarchive.com by Bob Furmanek, Leonard Maltin expanded, “TV started being popular in 1949, and got more popular in 1950, and exponentially more popular each year after, and the studios panicked.” The movie executives wanted to give their audience something they couldn’t get at home to get them back into the theaters. Different technology was tested to see what worked best, including stereophonic sound, widescreen, and 3D.
This new technology was a tremendous adjustment for studios and budgets. Leonard expanded, “Theaters would have to change the screens so they could put the 4-channel speakers behind the screens and sound could bleed through. Everything was expensive and cumbersome, and the 3D glasses were made of cardboard, not terribly comfortable, but it was a craze.”
For the first half of 1953, 3D was very popular. One studio after another cranked out 3D movies. By the end of that year, people lost interest in this fad, “just as the recent 3D craze has,” Leonard noted. These 3D films were very forward thinking and successful, but people just got tired of wearing the glasses.
In 1953, there was a resurgence (originally started in the 1920s) of this technology with “Hondo” starring John Wayne and “Kiss me Kate” that came out in 3D and did really well. Leonard expanded on how this technology got to Hitchcock, “Cinematographer Robert Burks was shooting ‘Hondo’ in Mexico with a new camera rig from Warner Brothers. As soon as he finished it, he came back to Hollywood and started shooting tests with Alfred Hitchcock for ‘Dial M for Murder.’ Because Hitchcock embraced new technology, they worked together and decided to do it in widescreen (185×1).”
To promote the new movie, Warner Brothers took out ads saying, “Perfect 3-dimension in the Hitchcock manner.” After playing the film in some key cities, The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “One of the few films in which 3D is a decided asset…the extra dimension, coupled with the way Hitchcock uses the camera, gives the impression that one is sitting in the theater watching a stage play.”
The world premiere took place on May 18, 1954, in Grace Kelly’s hometown of Philadelphia. And when people did not show up to see it in 3D, the theater manager asked to show it in 2D, and Warner Brothers agreed to the change. The film then showed for five weeks and made a lot of money at that theater. Leonard expanded, “At that point, Warners’ said, well, you can’t fight city hall. And though the film was always available in 3D, and some other theaters did show it that way, most of the country saw it flat, those are the facts.”
On May 26th, Variety ran a headline “3D looks dead in the United States” so Warner Brothers changed “all the advertising, all the posters and removed the 3D references.” The movie wasn’t really seen in 3D for decades afterwards.
Fortunately, Warner Brothers has now restored the film, and we got to see it using RealD 3D glasses. Leonard explained the twist of fate for this film, “It was only in the last 2 years or so that Warner Brothers undertook to restore the original negatives and elements, which was very complex because again it was shot with two negatives, and it was shot in Technicolor…, so they had the left eye and the right eye, they had to be in perfect sync, etc. etc. We’re so glad Warner Brothers made that investment because now we can see it in a beautiful digital restoration in 3D and widescreen, and that’s what we’re going to do tonight.”
Leonard then introduced Alfred Hitchcock’s friend and actor as, “The spryest 98-year-old in town, the one and only, Norman Lloyd.” After a standing ovation, Leonard asked Norman for his opinion of his 3D history, and Norman replied, “It was complicated, and you made it very clear.”
While 3D never came up in Norman’s conversations with Hitchcock, he reflected about this film legend, “The thing about Hitch,,,the basic, the most important thing, he was a great storyteller, and every shot was meant to further him telling you the story. As I quoted the other night, he said, ‘If you can tell it, you can shoot it, if you cannot tell it, you cannot shoot it….’.” Hitchcock was known as a master storyteller. Norman added, “When he told you the story, he told you every shot.”
And then as a close, Norman shared a message to all actors, “I was thinking the other day about Hitch, he reminded me more of any actor that Max Reinhardt, the great German Director, quoted one day, ‘An actor should smell of the gallows and carry his childhood in his pocket’, and that was Hitch. You asked about his humor, that was his childhood in his pocket, but the smell of the gallows was always there, and that was the rare quality that he had, his greatness as a storyteller.”
With a big smile, Leonard then thanked Norman for also being a great storyteller. TCM fans cheered, we put on our 3D glasses, and sat back and enjoyed “Dial M for Murder” in 3D and widescreen. While it’s not the same as seeing it in a theater, you can now purchase the Blu-Ray 3D version on Amazon. You can also watch our interview with Leonard Maltin for more Hollywood history: VIDEO: Leonard Maltin at TCM Classic Film Festival Opening Night.
© Liz H Kelly @LizHKelly, National Digital Entertainment Columnist and Sunrise Road Media http://sunriseroadmedia.com