Dial M for Murder


1h 45m 1954
Dial M for Murder

Brief Synopsis

A straying husband frames his wife for the murder of the man he'd hired to kill her.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Thriller
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
May 29, 1954
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 28 May 1954
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA; New Jersey, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knott (London, 19 Jun 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Warnercolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

In her London apartment, wealthy Margot Wendice discusses with her American ex-lover, Mark Halliday, why she changed her mind about leaving her husband Tony. Several months ago, she explains, Tony suddenly became more affectionate and now, convinced that he cares for her, she plans to remain loyal, despite her love for Mark. Wanting a fresh start in her marriage, she is concerned about an anonymous blackmailer who stole a letter Mark wrote to her, but never picked up the money she paid or returned the letter. When Tony, a former tennis professional-turned-salesman, comes home, he announces that unexpected business matters have pre-empted their evening plans, but encourages Mark and Margot to go out without him. In consolation, he invites Mark to his club's banquet that will be held the following evening. After they leave, Tony calls Capt. Lesgate, feigning interest in a car the man is selling. After manipulating him into meeting at the apartment to negotiate, Tony surprises Lesgate by revealing that they are former Oxford schoolmates and that he is aware of several illegal activities in which the small-time crook has been involved. Intimating that he married for money, Tony tells Lesgate that he stole Margot's letter and blackmailed her to confirm her affair with Mark. Anticipating that she will leave him, Tony wants Margot killed before she takes off with her wealth, and blackmails Lesgate into agreeing to do the killing. As further enticement, Tony promises to pay Lesgate with money that he has been surreptitiously amassing through small bank withdrawals over the past year. As his reputation is spotless, Tony warns Lesgate that attempting to report his proposition to the police will backfire. After Lesgate agrees to cooperate, Tony unveils his elaborate plan: On the following evening, while Tony and Mark attend the banquet, Lesgate is to watch the apartment and when Margot retires, enter using Margot's own house key, which Tony plans to sneak out of her handbag and put under the stairway carpet outside their door. At a specified time, Tony will call, and when Margot gets up to answer, Lesgate, who will be hiding behind drapes near the telephone, is to strangle her. When the deed is done, Lesgate is to whistle into the phone and hang up. Before leaving, he is to leave the garden window open and replace the key under the stairway carpet. The next evening, while chatting over cocktails, Tony's interest is piqued when Mark, who is a television mystery writer, claims that, although he can write the "perfect murder," in real life he would overlook some detail and be caught. Before he and Mark leave for the club, Tony gets the key from Margot's handbag and manipulates her into staying home to clip articles for his scrapbook. At the club, Tony excuses himself from the table, saying he must call his boss, but instead calls home. Meanwhile, after Lesgate has unlocked the apartment door and returned the key to its hiding place, he waits inside the dark apartment. When Margot gets up to answer the phone, Lesgate tries to strangle her with a stocking, but she struggles and stabs him in the back with a pair of scissors that she used to clip Tony's articles. Lesgate falls on the scissors and dies. Tony, on the other end of the phone line, hearing his plans go awry, quickly contrives a different way to accomplish his goal. He talks into the phone and the shaken Margot, recognizing his voice, tells him what happened. After telling her that he will call the police, Tony immediately goes home. Later, at the apartment, while pretending to "protect" Margot from police questioning, he sneaks the key in Lesgate's pocket into Margot's handbag and leaves the love letter where police find it. Other evidence indicates that Lesgate did not come in through the garden window, so Inspector Hubbard, who is in charge of the case, concludes that Margot let in and killed Lesgate, who was blackmailing her. Although Hubbard finds it odd that no key is found on Lesgate's body, Margot is arrested, tried and sentenced to death. Tony, while waiting to inherit her fortune, begins paying his bills with the cash meant for Lesgate. On the day before Margot's scheduled execution, Mark shows up at the apartment urging Tony to invent a story to save Margot's life. As an example, Mark suggests that Tony "confess" that he hired Lesgate to kill Margot, but that she killed her attacker in self-defense. Tony would be safe from prosecution, Mark says, as he could not be convicted for an uncommitted crime. Tony refuses, saying the police would never believe such a story. When Hubbard unexpectedly shows up, Mark hides in the bedroom. While he overhears the inspector inquire about the large amounts of cast Tony appears to have on hand, Mark finds the briefcase of money that was meant to pay off Lesgate. With briefcase in hand, Mark confronts Tony in front of Hubbard, but Tony dismisses Mark's and Hubbard's questions by claiming that the briefcase contains Margot's payoff to Lesgate, which he concealed to hide her guilt. Before leaving, Hubbard reminds Tony to collect Margot's belongings at the police station and then secretly exchanges his own raincoat for Tony's. Later, when the apartment is vacant, Hubbard enters with Tony's key, followed by Mark. Plainclothesmen bring Margot to the apartment and show her in when she is unable to enter using the key in her handbag. As they wait, Hubbard intimates that he needs proof of his suspicions about Tony and has his men return Margot's handbag to the station. Later, Tony arrives, but has no key to get in. Now aware that he has the wrong raincoat, he proceeds to the police station and later returns with Margot's effects, including her handbag. When he again fails to open the door, this time using Margot's key, Tony realizes that the key he took from Lesgate's pocket on the night of the attempted murder was the dead man's own, so he checks under the stairway carpet, retrieves the key he took from Margot's handbag and unlocks the door. Upon finding Hubbard, Mark and Margot waiting inside, Tony acknowledges that his scheme failed and congratulates Hubbard for correctly solving the case.



Photo Collections

Dial M for Murder - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Dial M for Murder (1954). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Thriller
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
May 29, 1954
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 28 May 1954
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA; New Jersey, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knott (London, 19 Jun 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Warnercolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

Dial M for Murder


Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), a callous playboy who has married well, begins to worry when his wealthy wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), begins an affair with an American writer (Robert Cummings). Sensing a threat to his financial security, Tony plots to murder Margot for her inheritance and proceeds to blackmail a former acquaintance into doing the dirty deed. Of course, things don't work out as Tony planned and therein lies the fun of Dial M For Murder (1954), Alfred Hitchcock's masterful film version of the popular Frederick Knott stage play.

A film with a couple of "firsts" for Hitchcock, Dial M For Murder marked the beginning of the director's collaboration with blonde actress Grace Kelly (They made three films together including Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). It was also the first and only time he filmed a movie in the 3-D format, a visual process that required special glasses to view the film. 3-D movies were a popular fad in the early fifties and studio head Jack Warner ordered Hitchcock to film Dial M For Murder using this new stereoscopic technique. Despite the immense trouble Hitchcock had in using this cumbersome process (The 3-D camera was reportedly as big as a star's "dressing room"), Dial M For Murder was eventually released to movie theatres in a "flat" version but you can still see evidence of the technique in such scenes as the famous scissors murder.

Although Hitchcock often said he had no real personal interest in Dial M For Murder and just considered it a standard contract job, he, nevertheless, transformed it from a routine murder mystery into a tense psychological thriller by exploiting the claustrophobic setting of the Wendice's apartment. In an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock later recalled: "In Dial M For Murder, I did my best to avoid going outside. It happened only two or three times, when the inspector had to verify something, and then, very briefly. Leven had the floor made of real tiles so as to get the sound of the footsteps. In other words, what I did was to emphasize the theatrical aspects." He also found ways to express the psychological state of the jeopardized wife, adding, "We did an interesting color experiment with Grace Kelly's clothing. I dressed her in very gay and bright colors at the beginning of the picture, and as the plot thickened, her clothes became gradually more somber."

In The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock by Donald Spoto, Grace Kelly confirmed Hitchcock's specific wardrobe requests: "He wanted to make a fancy velvet robe for me. He said he wanted the effect of light and shadow on velvet for the murder scene at the desk. I was very unhappy about it, and I told him I didn't think it was right for the part. He said he wanted a particular effect, but I said, "I don't think that this woman is going to put on this great fancy robe if she is getting up in the middle of the night to answer a ringing phone and there's nobody in the apartment." And he said, "Well, what would you do? What would you put on to answer the phone?" I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And he admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done."

There were other details to which the director applied his exacting standards. He personally selected the props for the set including the Wedgwood and Staffordshire figurines for the mantel and supervised the construction of a giant telephone dial with an enormous wooden figure for the extreme close-up shot in the film's credit sequence. As for the key murder scene, Hitchcock lost almost twenty pounds from nervous anxiety, trying to get it right in take after take. After one rehearsal, he said, "This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce - tasteless." A few final notes on Dial M For Murder: Look closely and you can spot Hitchcock's standard cameo appearance in a key scene in the Wendice's apartment; he can be glimpsed in a photograph of Tony's. Dial M For Murder would go on to inspire two remakes - a 1981 television movie with Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer and A Perfect Murder (1998) starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Frederick Knott
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Costume Design: Edward Carrere
Film Editing: Rudi Fehr
Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Principal Cast: Ray Milland (Tony Wendice), Grace Kelly (Margot Mary Wendice), Robert Cummings (Mark Halliday), Anthony Dawson (C.A. Swan/Captain Lesgate), Leo Britt (The Storyteller).
C-106m. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford
Dial M For Murder

Dial M for Murder

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), a callous playboy who has married well, begins to worry when his wealthy wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), begins an affair with an American writer (Robert Cummings). Sensing a threat to his financial security, Tony plots to murder Margot for her inheritance and proceeds to blackmail a former acquaintance into doing the dirty deed. Of course, things don't work out as Tony planned and therein lies the fun of Dial M For Murder (1954), Alfred Hitchcock's masterful film version of the popular Frederick Knott stage play. A film with a couple of "firsts" for Hitchcock, Dial M For Murder marked the beginning of the director's collaboration with blonde actress Grace Kelly (They made three films together including Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). It was also the first and only time he filmed a movie in the 3-D format, a visual process that required special glasses to view the film. 3-D movies were a popular fad in the early fifties and studio head Jack Warner ordered Hitchcock to film Dial M For Murder using this new stereoscopic technique. Despite the immense trouble Hitchcock had in using this cumbersome process (The 3-D camera was reportedly as big as a star's "dressing room"), Dial M For Murder was eventually released to movie theatres in a "flat" version but you can still see evidence of the technique in such scenes as the famous scissors murder. Although Hitchcock often said he had no real personal interest in Dial M For Murder and just considered it a standard contract job, he, nevertheless, transformed it from a routine murder mystery into a tense psychological thriller by exploiting the claustrophobic setting of the Wendice's apartment. In an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock later recalled: "In Dial M For Murder, I did my best to avoid going outside. It happened only two or three times, when the inspector had to verify something, and then, very briefly. Leven had the floor made of real tiles so as to get the sound of the footsteps. In other words, what I did was to emphasize the theatrical aspects." He also found ways to express the psychological state of the jeopardized wife, adding, "We did an interesting color experiment with Grace Kelly's clothing. I dressed her in very gay and bright colors at the beginning of the picture, and as the plot thickened, her clothes became gradually more somber." In The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock by Donald Spoto, Grace Kelly confirmed Hitchcock's specific wardrobe requests: "He wanted to make a fancy velvet robe for me. He said he wanted the effect of light and shadow on velvet for the murder scene at the desk. I was very unhappy about it, and I told him I didn't think it was right for the part. He said he wanted a particular effect, but I said, "I don't think that this woman is going to put on this great fancy robe if she is getting up in the middle of the night to answer a ringing phone and there's nobody in the apartment." And he said, "Well, what would you do? What would you put on to answer the phone?" I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And he admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done." There were other details to which the director applied his exacting standards. He personally selected the props for the set including the Wedgwood and Staffordshire figurines for the mantel and supervised the construction of a giant telephone dial with an enormous wooden figure for the extreme close-up shot in the film's credit sequence. As for the key murder scene, Hitchcock lost almost twenty pounds from nervous anxiety, trying to get it right in take after take. After one rehearsal, he said, "This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce - tasteless." A few final notes on Dial M For Murder: Look closely and you can spot Hitchcock's standard cameo appearance in a key scene in the Wendice's apartment; he can be glimpsed in a photograph of Tony's. Dial M For Murder would go on to inspire two remakes - a 1981 television movie with Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer and A Perfect Murder (1998) starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow. Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock Screenplay: Frederick Knott Cinematography: Robert Burks Costume Design: Edward Carrere Film Editing: Rudi Fehr Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin Principal Cast: Ray Milland (Tony Wendice), Grace Kelly (Margot Mary Wendice), Robert Cummings (Mark Halliday), Anthony Dawson (C.A. Swan/Captain Lesgate), Leo Britt (The Storyteller). C-106m. Closed captioning. by Jeff Stafford

Dial M for Murder in 3-D!


DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954), the classic Hitchcock thriller starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland, will be shown in its original NaturalVision 3-D for a one-week, 50th Anniversary engagement from Friday, January 2 through Thursday, January 8 at Film Forum. Showtimes are daily at 1:10, 3:20, 5:30, 7:40 and 9:50.

Given only a limited 3-D release upon its opening, Hitchcock's Dial M is rarely seen in its original double-system NaturalVision form: two projectors synchronized to give maximum brightness, color and depth. (A 3-D reissue in the early 80s converted the film to an inferior single-projector process.) Quintessential cool blonde (and Hitchcock favorite) Grace Kelly stars as a society woman for whom jealous husband Ray Milland arranges the perfect murder. But thanks to a well-placed pair of scissors, the tables are turned and Milland's carefully-laid plans begin to disintegrate.

Hitchcock used a rapid 36-day shooting schedule, and was dismissive of 3-D itself ("A nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day"). He refused to open out the hit play by Frederick Knott (author of another masterpiece of unknown terror, Wait Until Dark), confining most of the action to one set, and setting his cameras in a pit to get low-angle shots designed to emphasize depth and to give the film a theatricality and claustrophobia as in Rope and Rear Window. Only on this stage the proscenium doesn't end at the screen, it extends into the audience! 3-D is most effectively used in the murder sequence, which takes on new and greater significance as the viewer is placed in the midst of the struggle: a voyeuristic accomplice to murder as only Hitchcock could have planned.

Dial M for Murder in 3-D!

DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954), the classic Hitchcock thriller starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland, will be shown in its original NaturalVision 3-D for a one-week, 50th Anniversary engagement from Friday, January 2 through Thursday, January 8 at Film Forum. Showtimes are daily at 1:10, 3:20, 5:30, 7:40 and 9:50. Given only a limited 3-D release upon its opening, Hitchcock's Dial M is rarely seen in its original double-system NaturalVision form: two projectors synchronized to give maximum brightness, color and depth. (A 3-D reissue in the early 80s converted the film to an inferior single-projector process.) Quintessential cool blonde (and Hitchcock favorite) Grace Kelly stars as a society woman for whom jealous husband Ray Milland arranges the perfect murder. But thanks to a well-placed pair of scissors, the tables are turned and Milland's carefully-laid plans begin to disintegrate. Hitchcock used a rapid 36-day shooting schedule, and was dismissive of 3-D itself ("A nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day"). He refused to open out the hit play by Frederick Knott (author of another masterpiece of unknown terror, Wait Until Dark), confining most of the action to one set, and setting his cameras in a pit to get low-angle shots designed to emphasize depth and to give the film a theatricality and claustrophobia as in Rope and Rear Window. Only on this stage the proscenium doesn't end at the screen, it extends into the audience! 3-D is most effectively used in the murder sequence, which takes on new and greater significance as the viewer is placed in the midst of the struggle: a voyeuristic accomplice to murder as only Hitchcock could have planned.

Quotes

People don't commit murder on credit.
- Tony Wendice
Do you really believe in the perfect murder?
- Tony Wendice
Where's the nearest police station?
- C.A. Swan
Opposite the church about two blocks away.
- Tony Wendice
Suppose I walk over there right now.
- C.A. Swan
What would you tell them?
- Tony Wendice
Everything.
- C.A. Swan
Smart aren't you?
- C.A. Swan
No, not really. I just had time to think things out. Put myself in your shoes. That's why I know you're going to agree to this.
- Tony Wendice
What makes you think I'll agree?
- C.A. Swan
For the same reason that a donkey with a stick behind him and a carrot in front always goes forwards and never backwards.
- Tony Wendice

Trivia

about 13 minutes into the film, on the left side of the reunion photograph.

Hitchcock arranged to have 'Kelly, Grace' dressed in bright colors at the start of the film and made them progressively darker as time goes on.

Filmed in 3D, which explains the prevalence of low-angle shots with lamps and other objects between us and the cast members. There was only a brief original release in 3D, followed by a conventional, "flat" release; the 3D version was reissued in 1980.

Notes

The opening title card reads: "Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder Color by WarnerColor." According to a June 1953 Variety article, Sir Alexander Korda saw the BBC-TV production, Dial M for Murder, and bought the rights for $2,800 shortly before a stage version opened at Westminster Theatre in London in June 1952. He resold the film rights to Warner Bros. for $75,000, with the stipulation that staged versions close prior to the release of the film. Although, according to the article, potential producers were leery of backing a Broadway production because of the clause, actor Maurice Evans negotiated an agreement in which Korda got two percent of the gross of the Broadway stage production, which opened in October 1952, in return for the postponement of the screen version until the fall of 1954. An April 1954 Daily Variety news item reported that, because of the agreement, Warner Bros. was forced to postpone multiple city press previews of the film, but the film had its premiere in late May 1954.
       According to the HR review, the screenplay kept the original play's book intact, and also like the play, action occurred almost entirely on one set. Only Frederick Knott is credited onscreen for adapting his original play, however, Ted Sherdeman is credited on the CBCS for the story. Sherdeman's contribution to the final film has not been determined. English actor John Williams, who made his film debut in Dial M for Murder, and Anthony Dawson reprised their Broadway roles for the film. As noted in an October 1953 New York Times news item, producer-director Hitchcock made his customary cameo appearance in the film by posing as one of the classmates in a school photograph.
       Grace Kelly, who critics have labelled the quintessential Hitchcock blonde, was loaned from M-G-M for the production; Dial M for Murder marked her first collaboration with Hitchcock. In the Time review, Hitchcock described Kelly as a "rare thing in movies...fit for any leading-lady part" and expressed that her "youthful," but "not juvenile" appearance suggested an intelligence that compared with Ingrid Bergman's. According to a modern source, Hitchcock claimed Kelly was the most cooperative actress he ever directed. She would star in two more of his films before her 1956 marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, whom she met while filming Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief. According to various news items, Kelly was to star in a fourth Hitchcock film, Marnie (1964), but her constituents demanded that she abandon acting for more princess-like pursuits.
       Dial M for Murder was Hitchcock's only venture into Natural Vision, which was a two-projector version of 3-D. The studio was pushing for more 3-D films after the success of House of Wax, according to a modern source, and Hitchcock complied, possibly with reluctance. During the thirty-six days of filming, he spent a week on the stabbing scene to get the three-dimensional effect he sought, as filming in stereoscope limited his ability to exploit camera placement and angles. Modern sources state that Hitchcock wanted a close-up of the "M" on the telephone hand dial during the opening credits, but the special 3-D cameras could not focus that closely. By the time of the film's release, the 3-D fad was nearing its end and a May 1954 Variety news item dated two days before the New York opening announced that Warner Bros. had changed their policy previously requiring that first runs be shown in 3-D.
       April 1954 press previews were presented in 3-D, but the New York Times review reported that it was shown flat (or 2-D) at the New York premiere. Although some modern sources suggest that the film opened on the West Coast at the Egyptian, a June 1954 pre-opening news item and the June 1954 ad indicate that the Los Angeles opening was held at the Beverly Hills Theatre. A November 1979 Variety article reported that Warner Bros. and Technicolor restored the 3-D WarnerColor version, which they unveiled at the Tiffany Theatre in West Los Angeles.
       On April 25, 1956, Anthony Dawson and John Williams reprised their film roles and reunited with Broadway cast member Maurice Evans in an NBC-TV Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Dial M for Murder directed by George Schaefer, in which Rosemary Harris played "Margot." In November 1967, Williams played the role again in an ABC-TV broadcast directed by John Moxey, which co-starred Laurence Harvey, Diane Cilento and Hugh O'Brien. In 1981, Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer starred in a television remake, directed by Boris Sagal. Dial M for Murder was also the inspiration for the 1998 Warner Bros. production, A Perfect Murder, which was directed by Andrew Davis and starred Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted Best Actress (Kelly--shared with her work in "Country Girl" and "Rear Window") by the 1954 National Board of Review.

Voted Best Actress (Kelly--shared with her work in "Country Girl" and "Rear Window") by the 1954 New York Film Critics Association.

Voted Best Supporting Actor (Williams--shared with his work in "Sabrina") by the 1954 National Board of Review.

Released in United States 1999

Released in United States November 1991

Released in United States Spring May 1954

Re-released in United States April 9, 1999

Re-released in United States August 1990

Re-released in United States November 8, 1991

Shown at Deauville Festival of American Film September 4-13, 1998.

Shown at Venice Film Festival (Nights and Stars) August 26 - September 8, 1998.

Remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder" (USA/1954) starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings.

Released in United States 1999 (The 1999 New York City re-release will also be shown in double-system 3-D form.)

Re-released in United States April 9, 1999 (Film Forum; New York City)

Released in United States Spring May 1954

Re-released in United States August 1990 (Los Angeles)

Released in United States November 1991 (For its November 1991 re-release in New York City, the film will be seen in its original double-system NaturalVision form: two projectors synchronized to give maximum brightness, color and depth. This is a rare screening of Warner Bros' only existing double-system 3-D print.)

Roger Avary was previously attached to direct.

Began shooting October 14, 1997.

Completed shooting January 13, 1998.

3-D Naturalvision

Re-released in United States November 8, 1991 (along with the 3D Bugs Bunny short "Lumber Jacket Rabbit"; New York City)