Movie review: Dial M for Murder (1954)

No such thing as the perfect murder. So said Margot’s lover in Dial M for Murder. He happens to be an author of detective novels.

Mark was responding to a question by Margot’s husband Tony. Tony was pondering the perfect murder. This wasn’t academic. Tony was planning on murdering his wife Margot.

Or rather have her murdered.

But, as Mark said, there are only perfect murders on paper. Things never go as planned. And they certainly didn’t for Tony.

Tony had found out about Mark and Margot’s affair. But that wasn’t the motivation for murder. The real motivation was money. Margot came from money. Tony was accustomed to living off of it. If Margot were to leave, so goes any money Tony lives on. But if Margot dies, as beneficiary to her will, he would be left with plenty to live on for the rest of his days.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder is masterfully done. At first I wondered at a bit of the acting. But either it became polished as the movie went on or I became enchanted with the plot. The audience is in the know the entire time.

We watch as Tony explains his plan to the guy he hires to kill Margot. Then we watch as the plot goes terribly awry and Tony improvises and alters the story, landing Margot on death row for killing the would-be murderer.

Mark would do anything for Margot, including trying to convince Tony to tell the police a story that would save her life—that Tony plotted her murder (after all, he would go to prison for only a few years for hiring someone to murder his wife—a small price to pay to save his wife from death).

Eerily, the story that Mark concocts is almost the exact plot that Tony had hatched. In the end, Tony is done in by a simple detail—the key that the killer was supposed to leave under the carpeting on the front stairs.

It was the perfect murder—on paper.

Podcast review: Serial, season one (2014)

I recently heard coworkers talking about this series of podcasts. And then I heard the host and producer interviewed by Terri Gross on Fresh Air. I was intrigued and thought about dipping my toe in to see how it was.

I ended up plunging in head-first. The real-life story is that engrossing.

Serial is a series of 12 podcasts that debuted October 2014 as a spin-off from This American Life. The host, Sarah Koenig, as an investigative journalist, looks into the 1999 strangulation of a high school student and the subsequent incarceration of the newly deceased’s ex-boyfriend.

Sarah has ongoing telephone conversations with Adnan Syed from his prison. She reenacts the events of the day, walking through the timeline presented in court. She interviews different people: Adnan, Jay (the sole witness), jurors, lawyers, detectives, and those that knew Hae Min Lin (the deceased). She tracks down any item in the records that wasn’t followed up on or that seems suspicious, such as girl who could corroborate Adnan’s alibi or the lack of DNA testing done.

Through her investigation, we learn things about the judicial system and how police investigations are carried out. For example, Sarah tests the hypothesis that memory is reliable, which is a bit shocking when you consider how much stock we place on witness accounts and their memories in criminal investigations, at trials, and in life in general.

Sarah also discusses her feelings, the ups and down, the roller coaster she is on. One minute she thinks Adnan is innocent, and then something suggests that there is no way that he is innocent, and then something else suggests that there is no way that he committed the murder. And on and on.

And she discusses her perspectives on Adnan’s reactions and feelings. Fifteen years after the conviction, the wounds for him are being reopened for him to suffer through again.

It is disconcerting to consider the amount of human error in legal judgments. And what Sarah is investigating and discussing is not a hypothetical. It is a real case with a dead high school woman and a convicted man behind bars for life. Swirling around them are numerous lives that were affected to varying degrees…from the friends, to the parents of Hae, to the guy who helped bury Hae’s body.

Both the interview with Terri Gross and the podcast series Serial are well worth a listen. The first season of Serial is over and you can binge listen to all 12 episodes (which is what I did). 2015 brings a new season…and a new story.