Dial M for Murder marked the start of Hitchcock and Kelly’s long-running artistic collaboration. In a surprisingly faithful screen adaptation of Frederick Knott’s acclaimed stage play, Hitchcock cast Kelly to play Margot Wendice, with Ray Milland playing her scheming husband with murder on his mind. The claustrophobic nature of the film – with almost every scene taking place inside the Wendice’s apartment – throws the performances into sharp relief. Margot’s affair with an American writer (Robert Cummings as Mark Halliday) is revealed almost immediately, as her gaze lingers on the arrivals notices in the morning newspapers.
Whilst much of the film sees Kelly lend her characteristic elegance to off-the-peg designs, costume designer Moss Mabry (who would later go on to design James Dean’s iconic leather jacket in Rebel Without a Cause) was responsible for the most iconic and enduring images from the film. In the second scene, preparing for a theatre date with her lover, Margot is literally and visually depicted as a scarlet woman, clad in a striking and scene stealing red evening dress, designed by Mabry. The sweetheart neckline, delicate lace sleeves, and a fit and flare silhouette showcased the actresses legendary beauty, and were accessorised with satin court shoes (in a coordinating shade), discreet gold jewellery and red lipstick. As she prepares to leave, Margot throws on a luxurious fur stole. Whilst it reinforces her glamorous and wealthy image, the femme fatale persona doesn’t sit easily on Kelly’s demure shoulders, and the image is swiftly undermined by her husband’s sinister plans.
The dress also plays greater significance in the context of the film as a whole as Hitchcock, ever the perfectionist, paid great attention to all aspects of Grace Kelly’s costume. In an later interview with Francois Truffant, the director revealed that, “We did an interesting color experiment with Grace Kelly’s clothing. I dressed her in very gay and bright colors at the beginning of the picture, and as the plot thickened, her clothes became gradually more sombre.” As Margot’s situation becomes increasingly desperate and her psychological wellbeing is threatened, her clothes also become simpler, less considered, her hair and make-up artfully dishevelled.
Kelly herself later admitted that she was unafraid to challenge Hitchcock when she felt the costumes didn’t fit her character. Hitchcock was keen for Margot to answer the phone during the murder scene wearing a velvet robe, but she claimed that any woman on her own at home wouldn’t get dressed up in a robe in the middle of the night. Hitchcock succumbed, imbuing the actress with a newfound confidence in her wardrobe choices, a confidence that subsequently influenced her costumes in Rear Window and To Catch A Thief.
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