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STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) / DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954). There are the capital-C Classic Alfred Hitchcock movies like Psycho and Vertigo, and then there are the lower-case-c classic Alfred Hitchcock movies like this pair from the Master's thematically rich run during the 50s. Strangers continues to work its way up into the major leagues -- indeed, a few critics already number it among Hitchcock's three or four best works. It's certainly one of the director's most diabolical films, a startling piece in which a tennis player (Farley Granger) meets a peculiar man (Robert Walker) during a fateful train ride and dismisses the stranger's suggestion that they "exchange" murders. It's only after the athlete's loathsome wife turns up dead that he realizes the plan was no joke -- and that he's expected to live up to his end of the bargain by murdering the other man's domineering father. Walker's creepy performance ranks among the best found in any Hitchcock film, and several of the set pieces -- Walker's immobile presence among an animated tennis crowd; a murder reflected in the victim's eyeglasses; the shocking merry-go-round finale -- represent the filmmaker in top form. Dial M for Murder, by contrast, is often dismissed as lesser Hitchcock, yet its intricate plot and sterling performances thrill me every time I watch it. Based on a popular stage play -- yet so absorbing that its (for the most part) one-room setting never becomes a handicap -- this finds a retired tennis pro (Ray Milland) scheming to murder his wife (Grace Kelly), who's been having an affair with a mystery writer (Robert Cummings). Milland's performance is so subtle that it rarely receives the praise it deserves, while Kelly was having a banner year, also co-starring in Hitchcock's Rear Window and delivering an Oscar-winning turn in The Country Girl. Yet it's veteran actor John Williams, as the cagey detective on the case, who pops up at the midway mark and proceeds to swipe the rest of the picture. Extras on the two-disc Strangers DVD include the preview version of the film (running two minutes longer), audio commentary with director/historian Peter Bogdanovich and several Hitchcock colleagues and family members, a making-of documentary, and footage from Hitchcock's home movies. DVD extras on Dial M include a making-of feature and, since the picture was originally shown in 3D, a brief history on the format. Both movies are available individually or as part of Alfred Hitchcock: The Signature Collection, a boxed set of nine titles that includes classics (North By Northwest), sleepers (Foreign Correspondent) and misses (I Confess).
Strangers On a Train: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Dial M for Murder : 1/2
Extras: 1/2

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