Dial M for Murder: Wikis


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Dial M for Murder

Movie poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by William Hill (associate producer)
Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited)
Written by Frederick Knott (stage play & screenplay)
Starring Ray Milland
Grace Kelly
Robert Cummings
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Robert Burks
Editing by Rudi Fehr
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) May 29, 1954 (U.S.)
Running time 105 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget US$ 1,400,000

Dial M for Murder (1954) is a thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released by Warner Brothers. It stars Ray Milland as a retired tennis pro who wishes to have his wife killed, Grace Kelly as the wife, and Robert Cummings as her paramour. The supporting cast includes John Williams as the police detective who investigates the matter and Anthony Dawson as the man hired to do the killing.

The film premiered in 1952 as a BBC television play, before being performed on the stage in the same year (West End in June, and then Broadway in October).

The screenplay was written by Frederick Knott, and was based on the almost identical stage play of the same title by English playwright Frederick Knott (1916–2002). Knott moved to the U.S. in 1954 and wrote only one other well-known play, Wait Until Dark (1966), which was filmed a year later. Knott also wrote a lesser-known play, Write Me a Murder (1961), which ran for 196 performances at Belasco Theater. His work tends to focus on women who innocently become the potential victims of sinister plots.

There is just one setting in the stage play of Dial M for Murder: the living-room of the Wendices' flat in London (61A Charrington Gardens, Maida Vale). Hitchcock's film adds a second setting in a gentleman's club, a few views of the street outside and a stylized courtroom montage. Having seen the play on Broadway, Cary Grant was keen to play the role of Tony Wendice, but studio chiefs did not feel the public would accept him as a man who arranges to have his wife murdered.

In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten" — the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres — after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Dial M for Murder was ranked the ninth best film in the mystery genre in the AFI's list.[1]



The story describes a plot by retired professional tennis player Tony Wendice (Milland) against his wealthy wife Margot (Kelly). Tony ended his tennis career after Margot complained about his schedule, and a year ago she began an affair, which he secretly discovered, with American crime-fiction writer Mark Halliday (Cummings). For several months, Tony has been investigating C.J. Swann (Dawson), a disreputable fellow Cambridge alumnus who lives in London, as Tony and Margot do, in order to blackmail him into murdering Margot.

The film begins as Mark arrives in England and Margot introduces him to Tony as her old school chum. After sending the two lovers out for the evening, Tony makes an excuse to invite Swann to his flat, then tells him about Margot's affair, including a love letter from Mark which she used to keep in her handbag. Six months ago, Tony stole the handbag and anonymously blackmailed her. After tricking Swann into leaving his fingerprints on the letter, Tony offers to pay him £1,000 to kill Margot. If he refuses, Tony will turn him in to the police as the blackmailer.

Cummings, Kelly and Milland

When Swann reluctantly agrees, Tony explains his plan: He will take Mark to a party tomorrow, leaving Margot at home and hiding her latchkey under the carpet on the staircase just outside the front door. Swann is to sneak into the flat after Margot goes to bed and hide behind the curtains in front of the French doors leading to the garden. When Tony telephones from the party, Margot will go to the phone, which sits on a desk in front of the doors. Swann is to kill her from behind, open the doors, leave signs suggesting a failed burglary, and exit through the front door, hiding the key under the staircase carpet again.

The plan works until Tony phones the flat. When Swann tries to strangle Margot with a scarf, she stabs and kills him, then picks up the telephone receiver and pleads for help. Realizing that the plan has gone wrong, Tony answers her and tells her not to do anything. At home, he finds a key in Swann's pocket, puts it in Margot's handbag, calls the police, sends Margot back to bed, plants Mark's letter on Swann, and replaces Swann's scarf with a pair of Margot's stockings. Afterward, he persuades Margot to hide the fact that he told her not to call the police.

The next day, Chief Inspector Hubbard (Williams) questions the Wendices, and Margot makes several conflicting statements. When Hubbard explains that Swann must have entered through the front door, Tony falsely claims to have seen Swann when Margot's handbag was stolen and suggests that Swann made a copy of her key. Hubbard arrests Margot after concluding that she killed Swann for blackmailing her with Mark's letter when he came to collect some money.

Margot is sentenced to death for murder. On the day before her scheduled execution, Mark tries to persuade Tony to save her by telling the police he hired Swann to kill her, not realizing that this is what actually happened. Tony refuses, insisting that the story is too unrealistic, just before Hubbard arrives. With Mark hiding in the bedroom, Hubbard asks Tony about money he has been spending lately, tricks him into revealing that his latchkey in his raincoat, and asks him about an attaché case. As Tony claims to have lost the case, Mark notices it on the bed, full of money, and realizes that his story is true.

Mark stops Hubbard from leaving and explains his theory, but Hubbard claims to prefer Tony's story that Margot gathered the money to pay Swann before deciding to kill him. After Mark leaves, Hubbard discreetly swaps his own raincoat with Tony's, and as soon as Tony has left, he uses Tony's key to re-enter the flat. He really suspects Tony, having discovered that the key in Margot's handbag was Swann's. Mark returns after seeing Tony leave.

Meanwhile, on Hubbard's orders, police officers release Margot outside. She tries to unlock the door with the key in her purse, then enters through the garden, proving that she is unaware of the hidden key. Hubbard has the handbag returned to the police station, and Tony retrieves it after discovering that he has no key. When he is unable to unlock the front door with the key from the bag, he realizes what happened, finds Margot's key on the staircase, and opens the door, proving his guilt. With his escape routes blocked by Hubbard and another policeman, he accepts defeat.


  • Ray Milland as Tony Wendice, a retired professional tennis player
  • Grace Kelly as Margot Mary Wendice, Tony's wife
  • Robert Cummings as Mark Halliday, a writer of television crime fiction, Margot's paramour
  • John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard
  • Anthony Dawson as Charles Alexander Swann, a.k.a. Captain Lesgate, Tony's shady acquaintance
  • Leo Britt as The Storyteller
  • Patrick Allen as Detective Pearson
  • George Leigh as Detective Williams
  • George Alderson as First Detective
  • Robin Hughes as Police Sergeant


A commentary on Dial M for Murder ascribed to Hitchcock goes like this: "As you can see, the best way to do it is with scissors." This refers at the same time to the film's pivotal scene, in which Grace Kelly stabs her would-be murderer with a pair of scissors, and to the clever editing which is a hallmark of his movies. One of the finest scenes is when we see Tony Wendice at the stag party, slightly nervous and frequently looking at his watch. It is already past eleven when he notices that it has stopped: He gets up from the table, hurries to the phone booth, has to wait there and eventually calls his flat well after 11 o'clock, at the very moment Lesgate is about to leave it again, believing that he has waited in vain. This is a miniature race against time full of dramatic music, complete with a cut to the automatic telephone exchange.

There is no real courtroom scene. This part of the film is done in a highly stylized way: The camera is on Margot, there are no props (only various colored lights), and the various people present at a trial are only introduced by means of voice-overs — aside from the judge when he is receiving his Black Cap. Margot being sentenced to death is altogether missing from the stage play; it is only reported.

Apart from a few short outdoor shots—Tony Wendice approaching and leaving his flat etc.—the claustrophobic atmosphere of other Hitchcock films (Lifeboat, Rope, Rear Window) can also be found here. Most of the action is restricted to a single set. The angle of the camera is also of interest (several times shot from the ceiling, a sort of bird's eye view).

Margot and Mark's names were changed for the film. In the original play, they were Shelia Mary Wendice and Max Halliday.

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In Dial M for Murder he can be seen (13 minutes into the film) in a black-and-white reunion photograph sitting at a banquet table among former students and faculty.

3D film version

The 1954 film was shot with M.L. Gunzberg's Natural Vision 3-D camera rig. This rig was notable for being the same rig that started the 3-D craze of 1953 with Bwana Devil and House of Wax. Intended originally to be shown in dual strip, polaroid 3-D, the film played most theaters flat due to the loss of interest in the 3-D process in conjunction with the time of its release. In February 1980, the dual-strip system was used for the revival of the film in 3-D at the York Theater in San Francisco. This revival did so well that Warner Brothers re-released the film in the single-strip system 3-D version in February 1982.

Similar films and remakes

Dial M for Murder is sometimes confused with a film with a similar setting and subject-matter, Midnight Lace (US; David Miller, 1960), starring Rex Harrison and Doris Day. In this film, a woman (Day) receives harassing telephone calls that escalate until she is in physical danger. In the end, the culprit turns out to be her own husband (Harrison), too. There is also a police inspector around (in both cases played by John Williams), and the setting is also very British.

One of the classic examples of a stage thriller, it has been revived a number of times since, including a U.S. TV movie in 1981 with Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer.

A Perfect Murder is a 1998 remake directed by Andrew Davis and starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in which the characters of Halliday and Lesgate are combined: the husband (Douglas) hires his wife's lover (played by Viggo Mortensen) to kill her. However, a twist occurs when the lover sends a third party to kill the wife. The part of the inspector (David Suchet) is also much reduced, and it is Gwyneth Paltrow's character (as the wife) who unravels much of the mystery.

The character played by Robert Cummings of TV crime writer Mark Halliday, was originally called "Max Halliday" in the stage play. In the 1956 US TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents there is an episode called "Portrait of Jocelyn" that features a man called Mark Halliday, who murders his wife.

The film was remade in Bollywood as Aitbaar (1985), starring Raj Babbar, Dimple Kapadia and Suresh Oberoi. Yet another Bollywood film, Humraaz (2002), starring Bobby Deol, Akshaye Khanna and Amisha Patel, is inspired by both this film as well as A Perfect Murder.

UK Based Vertigo Theatre Productions updated the classic thriller in 2009, changing its name to 'M' and replacing the husband and wife set-up with a brother and sister. The play was written by Craig Hepworth and Adele Stanhope.

Alternate titles

  • Alibi - Hebrew title
  • Bei Anruf Mord - German title - (translation: Murder on Call)
  • Crimen perfecto - Spanish title - (translation: Perfect Crime)
  • Disque M para Matar - Brazil title - (translation: Dial M to Kill)
  • Gyilkosság telefonhívásra - Hungarian title - (translation: Murder for a Phonecall)
  • Il delitto perfetto - Italian title - (translation: The perfect murder)
  • Le Crime était presque parfait - French title - (translation: The Crime Was Almost Perfect)
  • Slå Nollan Till Polisen - Swedish title - (translation: Dial Zero For the Police)
  • Telefonen Ringer Klokken 23 - Danish title - (translation: The Phone Rings at 11pm)


  1. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. 2008-06-17. http://www.afi.com/10top10/mystery.html. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Dial M for Murder is a 1954 film about an ex-tennis pro who carries out a plot to murder his wife. When things go wrong, he improvises a brilliant plan B.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Frederick Knott, based on his play.
Kiss By Kiss...Supreme Suspense Unfurls!(taglines)


Tony Wendice

  • People don't commit murder on credit.
  • [on the phone with Margot] I'm so glad we don't have to go to Maureen's; she's such a filthy cook.

Chief Insp. Hubbard

  • They talk about flat-footed policemen. May the saints protect us from the gifted amateur.
  • [Detective Pearson is about to leave with Mrs. Wendice's small purse around his wrist] Oh, wait a minute, you clot; you can't walk down the street like that - you, you'll be arrested!
  • Mind you, even I didn't guess that at once... extraordinary.


  • Mark Halliday: [to Margot] Darling, I understand now, but that doesn't stop me from loving you.


Tony Wendice: How do you go about writing a detective story?
Mark Halliday: Well, you forget detection and concentrate on crime. Crime's the thing. And then you imagine you're going to steal something or murder somebody.
Tony Wendice: Oh, is that how you do it? It's interesting.
Mark Halliday: Yes, I usually put myself in the criminal's shoes and then I keep asking myself, uh, what do I do next?
Margot Mary Wendice: Do you really believe in the perfect murder?
Mark Halliday: Mmm, 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.
Tony Wendice: Hmm.
Tony Wendice: No, 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.

C.A. Swan: Where's the nearest police station?
Tony Wendice: Opposite the church, two minutes walk.
C.A. Swan: Suppose I walk there now.
Tony Wendice: What would you tell them?
C.A. Swan: Everything.
Tony Wendice: Everything? All about "Mr. Adams" and "Mr. Wilson"?
C.A. Swan: I should simply tell them that you're trying to blackmail me into...
Tony Wendice: Into?
C.A. Swan: ...murdering your wife.
Tony Wendice: I almost wish you would. When she heard that we'd have the biggest laugh of our lives.
C.A. Swan: Aren't you forgetting something?
Tony Wendice: Am I?
C.A. Swan: You've told me quite a lot tonight.
Tony Wendice: What of it?
C.A. Swan: Suppose I tell them how you followed her to that studio in Chelsea and watched them cooking spaghetti and all that rubbish. Wouldn't that ring a bell?
Tony Wendice: Oh, it certainly would. They'd assume you'd followed her there yourself.
C.A. Swan: Me? Why should I?
Tony Wendice: Why should you steal her handbag? Why should you write her all those blackmail notes? Can you prove you didn't? You certainly can't prove I did. It will be a straight case of your word against mine.

C.A. Swan: Smart, aren't you?
Tony 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.
C.A. Swan: What makes you think I'll agree?
Tony Wendice: For the same reason that a donkey with a stick behind him and a carrot in front always goes forwards and not backwards.
C.A. Swan: Tell me about the carrot.

C.A. Swan: When would this take place?
Tony Wendice: Tomorrow night.
C.A. Swan: Tomorrow! Not a chance! I've got to think this over.
Tony Wendice: It has to be tomorrow. I've arranged things that way.
C.A. Swan: Where?
Tony Wendice: Approximately where you're standing now.

Margot Mary Wendice: How long have you known this?
Chief Insp. Hubbard: Did you suspect it yourself?
Margot Mary Wendice: No, never. And yet... What's the matter with me, Mark? I don't seem able to feel anything.


  • Kiss By Kiss...Supreme Suspense Unfurls!
  • If a woman answers...hang on for dear life!
  • It Holds You Spellbound with Suspense!
  • Is this the man she was waiting for... or the man who was waiting for her?
  • "...is that you, darling?"


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