C. A. Swann: Wasn’t that dull work? Following me around in your spare time?
Tony Wendice: To begin with . . . yes. But you know how it is. It’s like a hobby. Once you take up a hobby, the more interesting and fascinating it becomes. You became quite fascinating. There were times that I felt you almost belonged to me.
C. A. Swann: That must have been interesting.
A century before Marcel Duchamp, Schopenhauer had already worked out a theory of art which implied that the state of aesthetic contemplation did not require either an “artist” or an “artwork,” but depended almost entirely on the ability of the viewer or listener to achieve a state of will-less contemplation of basically anything. It was left to this writer to draw the corollary that in some cases a “bad” work of art might be able to achieve the same result, due to the state of boredom and disinterest it induces.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be “bad”: a “good” work of art, even a masterpiece, can do the same thing if, perhaps for some idiosyncratic reason on the part of the spectator, it exerts some power of fascination and ability to compel somewhat compulsive repetition until the requisite state is induced.
Indeed, there was a summer when I became quite fascinated by repeated viewing, at home, around sunset and cocktail hour, of some of Hitchcock’s little post-war films such as Rope (1948), Dial M for Murder, and Rear Window (both 1954). Apart from relative brevity, chronological propinquity, and shared actors (James Stewart and Grace Kelly are each in two, and together in one), they share some other noteworthy features: to begin with, the first two were based on stage plays (Rear Window was based on Cornell Woolrich‘s 1942 short story “It Had to Be Murder”). Hitchcock’s method, when facing a fallow period, was to buy a successful stage play and then film it as is, without the usual “opening up” of the play with new material filmed “outside” the set; that, he said, was the whole point of buying the successful property in the first place. All three films are essentially filmed performances, almost Greek in their observance of the unities of time and place.
Despite — or because of — this, Hitchcock concentrates on building elaborate, almost trompe-l’œil sets and shooting stages; in the case of Rear Window, despite not being based on a theatrical property,
[t]he film was shot entirely at Paramount Studios, which included an enormous indoor set to replicate a Greenwich Village courtyard. Set designers Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan Johnson spent six weeks building the extremely detailed and complex set, which ended up being the largest of its kind at Paramount. One of the unique features of the set was its massive drainage system, constructed to accommodate the rain sequence in the film. They also built the set around a highly nuanced lighting system which was able to create natural-looking lighting effects for both the day and night scenes. . . . In addition to the meticulous care and detail put into the set, careful attention was also given to sound, including the use of natural sounds and music that would drift across the courtyard and into Jefferies’ apartment.
For Rope and Dial M for Murder, we have meticulous recreations, in Hollywood, of apartments housing the post-war haute bourgeoisie of, respectively, New York City and London — and rather than filming an “enormous indoor set,” Rope features an elaborate diorama to depict the changing view outside the penthouse apartment’s windows.
Further, while Rear Window is filmed in a conventional manner (although the point is to draw the viewer into Stewart’s Peeping Tom behavior, not unlike the peephole shot in Psycho), Hitchcock uses the advantage of a single set to explore some cinematic conceits in the other films. Rope famously attempted, in the spirit of a filmed play, to be shot in one continuous take (although the technology available limited the shots to about ten minutes, after which the camera had to swoop up or down into darkness to hide the edit).
Dial M was shot in 3D, but by the time it was released the fad had passed, and audiences even demanded that theaters run it in 2D.  Despite it being barely 90 minutes, the primitive 3D projection process required an intermission, which further annoyed audiences and theater owners and puzzles YouTube viewers today. Hitchcock mused that “[i]t’s a nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day.”
Being a director of taste, however, Hitchcock doesn’t go for any cheap thrills. A big, honking European-style phone takes center stage in a lot of shots, and I’m told that in 3D it does have a sinister aura, although that might be an artefact of how weird the phone itself looks today. There are otherwise only two obvious uses of 3D: first, Grace Kelly’s hands reach out into the audience as she desperately tries to find something behind her that she can use to repel her attacker (the subsequent plunge of the scissors into Swann’s back, and his subsequent death agonies, is quite disturbing for a mainstream film, even without special effects).  This is nicely bookended by the later shot where the inspector proudly whips out the latchkey that solves the mystery, and holds it out into the audience: hmm, now who do you think this belongs to?
Although I plan to get around to Rope someday, I recently had the opportunity of viewing Dial M (albeit on a rather muddy Amazon stream), and thought to share some of my musings with the Constant Readers out there.
Here’s IMDB’s summary, to get everyone on the same page:
In London, wealthy Margot Mary Wendice had a brief love affair with the American [detective story] writer Mark Halliday while her husband and professional tennis player Tony Wendice was on a tennis tour. Tony quits playing to dedicate [himself] to his wife and finds a regular job. She decides to give him a second chance for their marriage. When Mark arrives from America to visit the couple, Margot tells him that she had destroyed all his letters but one that was stolen. Subsequently she was blackmailed, but she had never retrieved the stolen letter. Tony arrives home, claims that he needs to work and asks Margot to go with Mark to the theater. Meanwhile Tony calls Captain Lesgate (aka Charles Alexander Swann who studied with him at college) and blackmails him to murder his wife, so that he can inherit her fortune. But there is no perfect crime, and things do not work as planned.
Constant Readers will recall that in The Rebel Set, Tucker, or “Mr. T,” had the bright idea of recruiting not seasoned hoods, but “creeps” and “rank amateurs,” as his henchman Sidney calls them. They think they are “beatniks” (in modern terms, hipsters), but in fact, as he informs them, they are “not Beat, you’re merely beaten; you’re not detached, you’re unemployed!” He thinks that given one last chance to make it rich, they will perform with unequally intensity. By the end, everyone except Sidney is dead or in jail.
Wendice is another smug jerkass who thinks he is smarter than anyone else. While Mr. T thinks he can make use of losers, Wendice tries to blackmail his old school chum Swann, who has become a small-time conman now specializing in lonely ladies, into killing his wife. Swann is a first-class scumbag, but he’s no murderer. He tries to get time to “think it over” — meaning not work out a plan (Wendice has done that), but buck himself up to doing it. (I’m not defending Swann, but like Chris Rock said about O. J., “I’m not saying he’s right, but I understand.”)
The irony here is that Swann is actually, if not smarter than Wendice, at least smarter than Wendice thinks he is. Swann, after using the latchkey Wendice hid for him, puts it back rather than pocketing it. Then, when Wendice frantically searches the dead Swann’s trench coat for the key he assumes is there, he finds Swann’s own key, which he then “cleverly” replaces in Margot’s handbag; Swann’s lack of a housekey puzzles the police, who then find out that Margot’s key opens Swann’s door, and the scheme is exposed.
Moreover, Wendice himself screws up the entire scheme from the start by overwinding his watch and failing to make the call that is to lure Margot out of her bedroom to be strangled by Swann. Yet he stubbornly pushes forward, and even after Margot kills Swann by accident, Wendice immediately starts concocting another 5D strategy to frame her for Swann’s murder.
Mark, Margot’s American detective story-writing lover, even points out to Wendice that a perfect crime is impossible, but Wendice only gives him yet another smug look and keeps stirring the martinis.
Margot Mary Wendice: Do you really believe in the perfect murder?
Mark Halliday: Mmm [sipping a martini], yes, absolutely. On paper, that is. And I think I could, uh, plan one better than most people; but I doubt if I could carry it out.
Tony Wendice: Oh? Why not?
Mark Halliday: Well, because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to; and in real life they don’t . . . always. Hmm. I’m afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I’d make some stupid mistake and never realize it until I found everybody was looking at me.
Which is exactly how Wendice ends up, in this veddy genteel, veddy British moment:
[Tony has just been caught]
Tony Wendice: As you said Mark, it might work out on paper, but — Congratulations, Inspector. Oh, by the way — [makes himself a drink] How about you, Margot?
Margot Mary Wendice: Yes, I could do with something.
Tony Wendice: Mark?
Mark Halliday: So could I.
Tony Wendice: I suppose you’re still on duty, Inspector.
I say, well played! Drinks all ‘round! The Inspector once more combs his moustache, as the white man uses his brain to solve the mystery and set everything right.
Both Wendice and Swann are archetypal English “cads,” although Tony puts up a smoother front. Swann is the public-school bully/juvenile delinquent, going right back to Flashman of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, while Tony is the athletic “hearty” who’s a bit more polished and socially successful at school, and later in life: Tony marries not only for money, but gets Grace Kelly, no less, while Swann is an adventurer living off a series of lonely ladies, though only the most recent is really wealthy.
About that “wealth”: One thing that produces fascination is that single room set. This is, as noted, a very haute bourgeois apartment (or “flat”) in the swanky Maida Vale section of post-war London. Margot, and hence Margot and Tony, are supposed to be filthy rich, yet it seems remarkably barren. Perhaps, as happens in places like New York City or San Francisco, the rent takes up most of their ready cash — but it can’t be that expensive, as it’s not an eighteenth-century coach house or a stately country house.
In addition to the big room, there’s a small bedroom briefly seen, and a door opening onto an unseen but presumably pokey little kitchen. Of course, we never see the “fourth wall,” which for all we know could have been the viewscreen of the starship Enterprise or Bowman’s Louis Seize hotel room from 2001.
Speaking of Louis Seize décor, there’s a pair of rather uncomfortable-looking straight-back chairs flanking the well-laden drinks table (of course, can’t fail to keep that well stocked); the chair on the right (to us) will figure in the plot, as there seems to be no closet, and everyone just drapes their overcoats on the chair when entering, while the drinks table figures in Mark and Tony’s discussion of the perfect crime — and, as noted above, Tony’s “drinks all ‘round” response to his arrest.
The chairs might be valuable antiques, for all I know — but otherwise, the most expensive items on view are Tony’s tennis trophies (again, called attention to as part of the plot, being what the supposed “robber” was looking for in Tony’s cunning plan).
To understand this, we need address both the vertical and horizontal aspects. Vertical, in the sense of class: Tony must have been a scholarship boy at Cambridge, and his tennis career provided him with money and enough fame to provide him with Margot; Margot has both old money and class, and has furnished the apartment to her own class taste: no senseless jumble meant to “impress” a visitor; just a few items, but only the best of each.
One thinks of Christopher Millard, one of the Wilde circle who managed to ruin his life with his own scandals and wound up living in a shack in the back of a villa; A. J. A. Symons recalls him thus:
If Millard could have maintained this bungalow without financial cares he would have been completely happy; but though his tastes were simple, his simplicity was of the sort that is satisfied only with good things. He would buy salmon for his supper, carry it home in greased paper, and cook it himself; but it must be Scotch, and a prime cut. Bread and cheese would suffice for his lunch, but the cheese must be a choice Stilton. Modern beer was his despair; and he abhorred in equal measure imported meat, and credit accounts. In the matter of wine he was less exacting: he relied upon a reasonable Val de Peñas, which he bought cheaply from a shipper friend, and drank at any hour that pleased him. Indeed, despite his cramping poverty, he contrived to live almost entirely as he pleased. 
Of course, as always, in order to confuse the strivers among the lower orders, there’s the opposite mode, in which “the millionaire next door” drives a beat-up old car and wears old clothes from Sears — memorably referenced in the very first episode of Fawlty Towers:
Basil: Look, Sybil, I’ve had a word with Lord Melbury about it. He was quite charming . . . Oh, it’s delightful to have people like that stay here — sheer class, golf, baths, engagements . . .
Sybil: Well, I’ve never seen such tatty cases.
Basil: Of course you haven’t. It’s only the upper class that would have tat like that that . . . It’s the whole point! . . . Oh, you don’t know what I’m talking about . . .
Of course, it’s questionable how much stuff they could accumulate, which gets to the horizontal — or chronological — angle. Although the Victorians on both sides of the pond were no slouches when it comes to stuff — for which Edith Wharton scolded them — there wasn’t yet as much stuff for people to accumulate. There’s a radio in the bedroom, but of course no television, or even a gramophone. There’s likely not much in that kitchen, either. And of course there’s the murder weapon, the telephone; they have just the one (so that, as Tony plans, she’ll have to come out of the bedroom to answer it, and meet her doom), and are lucky to have it.
What a contrast and temptation for the modern urbanite! For indeed, even the poorest among us seem to be able to accumulate iPhones, cable TV, air conditioning (I suppose the Wendices make do with the French doors onto the garden), and other modern “necessities.” As “John Carter” says:
The great irony is that we are awash in consumer goods. The material detritus produced by Chinese slave labour crams our homes, to the point where no one wants it. Used bookstores are basically a thing of the past. Several months ago I tried selling off an apartment full of slightly used furniture and workout equipment (not because I needed the money — it was just too much of a hassle to bring with me), and ultimately had to give it away.
On the other hand, as I said about Millard in my review of Symons’ book, perhaps it’s “a case study in a world of genteel poverty, lost to the post-War Boomers but coming to a house near you soon.”
As for phones, this is one of those plots that couldn’t possibly work today, and it’s kind of fun to try to figure out how Tony’s scheme could be updated. The lack of instant access to phone records is the major point in his favor, although I suppose Tony could use some of Saul Goodman’s burner phones today, which also would have solved the unanticipated problem of the occupied phone box.
Hitchcock is lucky, though, because these screw-ups also give him ways to create tension by foiling Tony’s not-so-cunning plan step by step. The stopped watch — a nice subversion of the “synchronize watches!” meme in every caper film, the need to find a public phone (which is of course in use), etc. As Hitchcock or somebody said, it’s an interesting aspect of film audiences that we tend to want to see the villain’s elaborate plot succeed and begin to root for him, even if it involves a bank robbery or the end of the world.
Another otherworldly aspect is the “key” element of Tony’s plan:
Swann: But what if the front door is locked?
Wendice: [Quick, dismissive response] The front door is never locked.
I know it’s England and all, but even the inspector gives a “You’ve got to be kidding me” look when told about that — and it’s a sign of Swann’s underrated intelligence that they both come up with the same objection. Good thing the Wendices don’t have much to steal (other than those trophies, which perhaps Tony overvalues anyway) — or perhaps they’ve already been robbed? One wonders why the lower orders, rather than stewing in their rotten quarters, didn’t just rise up and loot Maida Vale, Bloomsbury, and other posh areas. Was it the rigidity of largely mental class barriers, or the very real threat of the police cracking heads?
Most curious is that there is no mention (and that’s another anachronism: It is a very talky film) of having children, or losing children, or wanting to have children. It’s just not an issue. In this way, it’s a curiously modern film — ripped from the headlines, as it were; or perhaps the pages of a sociology journal, or a dissident Right website.
Each — and Mark as well — seems to think of marriage as being just a kind of rental agreement, the two of them living together; “playing house,” I suppose. Tony, of course, is a sociopathic narcissist, so that makes sense. But what’s up with Margot? She’s comfortably well off, so there’s no need — and apparently no desire — to “have a career.” I suppose she’s one of those women who think having a child would ruin her figure, or be boring, or just get in the way. But even Edina Monsoon had at least two children!
Margot made Wendice give up professional tennis (she didn’t like traveling), and she refuses to properly organize his “boring” press clippings; she goes out to the theater, but as far as we know the only activity she engages in at home is listening to radio dramas and, strangely enough for a well-off woman, darning her own stockings (with the scissors that ironically both subvert Tony’s plan and gives Tony his instantly-needed “smoking gun” to get her arrested for the supposed “crime”). Tony is the one who has the do-nothing job, pretending to be a sports equipment executive, as forced on him by his spouse.
Since Margot was neither murdered nor hanged, I suppose it’s really a blessing that Tony came up with this plan, since it makes both their lives a lot more interesting. It’s like one of those typically British films where a bored couple stages crimes or affairs just to stave off the boredom of being rich and in charge of an empire.
Otherwise, it’s kind of sad to imagine these two selfish people sitting alone in their one, big room — big enough for a stage set! — and perhaps being viewed from above, as they often are in the film: Margot darning another pair of stockings, Tony polishing his tennis trophies. At some point they might just leave the gas on; as Dr. Lecter would say, “Best thing for them, really.”
* * *
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 See the discussion, with quotations from Schopenhauer, in the title essay of my collection Passing the Buck: Coleman Francis & Other Cinematic Metaphysicians (Colac, Victoria, Australia: Manticore Press, 2021). The link to Marcel Duchamp was in something I’ve read but can’t locate at the moment; any assistance would be appreciated. One might also compare Ananda Coomaraswamy’s remark that in traditional societies, “The artist is not a special kind of man, but every man is a special kind of artist.” (The Transformation of Nature in Art, 1934).
 Rope opens with a street scene, but after the camera pans away into the apartment we never leave it; Stewart summons the police at the end by firing a gun out the window. Dial M has a couple of almost comically fake exterior shots, in one of which a “London policeman” stands stock still, it being a photograph after all.
 There are actually four jump cuts, which is almost half the cuts, making it a bit less impressive. Vashi Nedomansky has put together a pretty nice three-minute compilation collecting the ten edits Hitchcock tried to hide, here.
 Having seen The Hobbit in 3D, I can certainly sympathize.
 Warner used an early technique that required two projectors, locked together; most theaters wouldn’t have enough projectors to keep the reels going, so the film had to be stopped and the projectors reloaded.
 There’s also a gigantic public phone box, which explains how Clark Kent would have room to change into Superman. The weirdest phone, though, is a gigantic mockup of a dial, so that the crude 3D cameras could film a close-up of the titular “M” being dialed, using an equally gigantic index finger. Hitchcock delighted in posing with this set-up for publicity shots.
 See my remarks in the previous review about Burroughs’ trope of The Set-Up Man, who in real life would never employ the losers who dream about him walking in.
 Swann: Smart, aren’t you?
Wendice: No, not really. I’ve just had time to think things out. Put myself in your position. That’s why I know you’re going to agree.
 Wendice: 1,000 pounds in cash.
Swann: For a murder?
Wendice: For a few minutes’ work, that’s all it is. And no risk, I guarantee. That ought to appeal to you. You’ve been skating on pretty thin ice.
 It seems to be implied that he may have murdered “poor Miss Wallace.” with an overdose of “the stuff” she was taking, but he may have only supplied the drugs themselves — or, like Walter White, he may have “watched Jane die.”
 The Inspector switches trench coats with Wendice before he goes to collect Margot’s effects: “Sooner or later, he’ll come back here. As I’ve pinched his latch key, he’ll try the one in the handbag. When that doesn’t fit, he’ll realize his mistake, put two and two together, and look under the stair carpet.”
 TVTropes notes that it was Wendice’s last-minute improvisation, forcing Margot to stay home by demanding that she finish cataloging his press clippings, that caused her to leave the scissors out on the desk, where she can grab them when struggling with Swann: a classic case of the Spanner in the Works trope. Depending on when Wendice overwound his watch, this could be the first blunder.
 TVTropes differentiates them thus: Tony: “Villain Protagonist: Tony, who notably doesn’t have any moments that try to humanize him or suggest he was acting out of desperation.” Swann: “Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Tony blackmails Swann into trying to murder his wife, but Swann is a career criminal and murderer himself, so he’s far from an innocent victim.”
 This was another reason to catch my attention: I’ve actually been there, once; in 2000 it still seemed fairly swanky, and a ruffian like me was there only because a friend had given me his pass to a Current 93 after-party.
 Wendice: “A few months before, Margot and I had made our wills. Short affairs, leaving everything we had to each other, in case of accidents. Hers worked out at just over 90,000. Investments mostly, all a little too easy to get at. And that was dangerous. They would be bound to suspect me.” According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, that would be £2,639,544.10 today.
 Perhaps, like Max’s throne in Once Upon a Time in America, they were once owned by a Pope.
 The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography (1932; many reprints, including Valancourt, 2014); see my review, “e-Caviar for the Masses!: Olde Books for the Downwardly Mobile Elite.”
 Season One, Episode One: “A Touch of Class.”
 Perhaps Margot has been influenced by “The Decoration of Houses, a manual of interior design written by Edith Wharton with architect Ogden Codman . . . first published in 1897. In the book, the authors denounce Victorian-style interior decoration and interior design, especially rooms decorated with heavy window curtains, Victorian bric-a-brac and overstuffed furniture. They argue that such rooms emphasize upholstery at the expense of proper space planning and architectural design and are, therefore, uncomfortable and rarely used. Wharton and Codman advocated the creation of houses with rooms decorated with strong architectural wall and ceiling treatments, accentuated by well-suited furniture, rooms based on simple, classical design principles such as symmetry and proportion and a sense of architectural balance.” (Wikipedia)
 In Kingsley Amis’ post-war, “Angry Young Man” novel Lucky Jim, a whole episode revolves around having to drive down to the local pub to make a phone call; even Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is built around these wealthy New Yorkers having to go down to the local bar to make their calls and have messages taken for them.
 The growth of London’s population, including vast numbers of the formerly rural poor and immigrants, led to the establishment of the first “police departments,” superseding overpowered and amateurish “justices of the peace” and sheriffs (“reeves of the shire”) who still hold largely nominal positions in today’s local governments. This, of course, also inspired both private detectives and their fictional counterparts, such as Sherlock Holmes. See the discussion in almost any critical edition of Sherlock Holmes, such as the recent Oxford World’s Classics edition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (Oxford, 2023), pp. xvii-xix, “The Rise of Detective Fiction.” Proponents of “muh Constitution” often point out that there are no “police” mentioned therein as such, so that restrictions on police, such as the Miranda decision, only apply to “justices of the peace” and so on — that was when “conservatives” were shouting “Unleash the police on the crooks!” rather than “I demand my rights!”
 Another sign of its theatrical origins, which Hitchcock does next to nothing to disguise, even by filming some shots of Wendice’s long explanation of his plan to Swann — almost the entire first act of the play! — from above, as if we were seated in a balcony.
 They seem to be rather like the couple Paul Simon had in mind, engaged in “The Dangling Conversation”:
It’s a still life watercolor
Of a now-late afternoon
As the sun shines through the curtain lace
And shadows wash the room
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference, like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
. . .
And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our place with book markers
That measure what we’ve lost
. . .
Yes, we speak of things that matter
With words that must be said
“Can analysis be worthwhile?”
“Is the theater really dead?”
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow, I cannot feel your hand
You’re a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives.
Of course, I’m the one on the sofa watching these movies. Hypocrite voyeur!
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