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Dial "M" for Murder

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Dial "M" for Murder, Shubert Theatre. As if to prove that chestnuts can be roasted at any season, the Shubert Theatre is hosting a return of Frederick Knott's classic work of suspense. The national tour of this faux thriller stars Roddy McDowall as the supposedly bumbling police inspector who unravels the crime behind a nasty frame-up. You may wonder why this creaker has been revived at all--by now it's more of a "whydoit" than a whodunit. But if you've forgotten enough of the taut 1954 Hitchcock film treatment to ensure suspense, this sturdy revival is worth the 150 minutes. As always, the payoff for the audience is not figuring out how the crime is accomplished--we're in on that from the start--but how the slippery perpetrator can dodge suspicion.

Since the play's chills are no longer galvanizing (and the play lacks the psychological edge of Knott's later Wait Until Dark), what remains is the fun of watching McDowall's not-so-clueless detective play cat and mouse with the suspects. His Yorkshire accent trailing off into slivers of suspicion, McDowall is a pro at artful misdirection and studied distraction. Soap star John (The Colbys) James plays the homicidal husband with nasty bluster, Nancy (Robocop) Allen is suitably vacuous as the adulterous target, and Michael Halsey exudes amoral opportunism as the doomed killer. --Lawrence Bommer

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