Tuesday, November 29, 2005

DIAL M and the Case of the Peripatetic Bed

In Dial M for Murder, following the Margot's (Grace Kelly) incarceration Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) moves the bed from the bedroom into the living room. I haven't yet seen what I feel is an adequate explanation for this. In the movie, that bed dominates the scene. As characters come and go, they have torather obviously circumvent the bed, and even Mark Halliday (the detective mystery writer) comments on it. Here's my opinion: The bed is a sort of a phallic symbol (loosely defined) that stands for Tony's new position as master of the house. It's his way of saying, "This is MY world and I will arrange it the way I want to.

Here's why I say that:

1) Tony chafed under Margot's supporting affluence. For example, he remarked with distaste how "dependent" he had become on Margot. He wanted out from under that humiliating (for him) role. Moving the bed into the living room would have been his way of asserting his
new independence from her influence.

2) The furniture in the apartment generally reflects Tony's "kept man" situation. The well-appointed apartment has an abundance of feminine touches, which suggests that the decorating and furnishings were 90% Margot's influence. There is one exception: Tony's favorite
chair (screen right, foreground), the brownish one, which is rather worn and ratty-looking. My pet theory about this chair is that it was Tony's one holdover from his bachelor or college days. I imagine he and Margot had a favorite domestic squabble in which she tried to get him to part with the thing, while he insisted that it stay put. Other than this chair, I suggest that the rest of the apartment is Margot's. How claustrophobic that must have been for Tony! Moving the bed in to the living room was a bold, yet clear message that the apartment decorating would now be HIS decision.

3) Tony's briefcase full of money was discovered on the bed -- while it was still in the bedroom. Tony's shame at this discovery (followed by his lame attempt to cover it with lie) reminds me of
the shame of an adolescent boy who is caught by his mother in the bedroom doing what most adolescent boys do when no one is watching. Hence, in the briefcase scene, the bed was a sort of masturbatory phallic symbol. Tony was caught with his pants down. Moving the bed away from that shame-riddled space was his way of "coming out" with his own masculinity.

4) When Mark arrived on a cruise ship, there are two back-to-back shots of the huge ocean liner coming in to port. By itself, those brief shots seem out of place. The enormous vessel dominates the brief scene. The narrative doesn't supply a good motive for the looming hugeness captured by that camera angle. It has an ominous feel, like the approach of an avenging angel (which is ironic, considering that Mark falls short of that ideal), and reminds me of the soot of the train's smokestack that dominates the shot of Uncle Charlie's train as it arrives in Santa Rosa (which is also ironic, as Charlie is no avenging angel, but, perhaps, a diabolical angel of death). But the shot of the ship seems odd, out of place, in a movie that is otherwise filled with images that are tasteful and understated. Likewise, that's what makes the bed/living room scene so jarring. That bed is just grotesquely out of place. I perceive a sort of parallel or parity or resonance between the ship scene and the later bed/living room scene. Both suggest to me a certain looming phallic quality; an idea of dominating masculinity. As a result, the ship motif can be better understood by accepting a deeper explanation of the meaning of the bed in the living room.

5) I DON'T believe that Tony would have moved the bed because he was "genuinely unable to sleep in the bedroom he had shared with Margot for so long." There is little in the movie to suggest that Tony had that much moral sense. He is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most AMORAL characters. Based on Tony's morality, I think it would have been more in his character to keep the bed in the bedroom and sleep the peaceful slumber of the pathologically amoral.

It doesn't bother me that Frederick Knott first moved the bed in to the living room in his play. It's entirely possible that he was also thinking of the "phallic" connotation. Besdies, Hitch
was a master at taking an element from his source material and manipulating it to take on deeper meaning.)

Joel Gunz

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1 comment:

Penny Lane said...

I am watching DMFM right now and the bed in the living room scene has begun. I have often wondered why the bed was moved as it is out of place. Why not just disassemble it?
I love the apartment, especially the green lamps, and just noticed how tacky the brown chair looks. I think you are right about Tony asserting his dominance and staking his claim. He certainly isn't grieving his wife's impending execution. Ray Milland is perfectly cast and an eloquent snake in the grass. I do feel sorry for him. She cheated on him but she doesn't deserve to die.
Regarding the ship, it could be construed as representing sexual intercourse but also, the movie was shot in 3D so it could be just one of the sight gimmicks employed to draw in the increasing number of TV watchers.
I love how Hitchcock makes us anxious for Swann to hurry up and get back behind the drapes before Margot sees him, all the while forgetting she might be killed.