Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Dial M For Murder (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Dial M For Murder (1954)

In Alfred Hitchcock's classic crime-thriller and mystery masterpiece - Hitchcock's screen version of English playwright Frederick Knott's successful stage play; the thriller had all the elements of a Hitchcock suspense murder mystery - a deadly love triangle, a MacGuffin (latch-keys), a stagebound set and dialogue-rich script, another of Hitchcock's brief cameo appearances, and an intriguing plot question - "Will he get away with it?"; it was filmed in 3-D with the technology that was available at the time, and judged as one of the greatest 3D films ever made; remade as A Perfect Murder (1998):

  • the charming, sophisticated yet villainous husband - an ex-tennis Wimbledon pro named Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) had married for money to acquire wealth from his blonde American socialite wife Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly); he was obsessively jealous about his wife's affair when she became unfaithful with American TV crime-mystery writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings); in the opening scene set in the Wendice's townhouse in London, Margot read about the imminent arrival of the Queen Mary at Southhampton, carrying Halliday as a passenger

Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings)

Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly)

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland)
  • Tony had become obsessively jealous of his wife's secretive love relationship that had resumed after Mark had returned to the US about a year earlier; in the film's love triangle, Margot unwisely believed that Tony was oblivious to their relationship (when in fact he knew all about it); she had decided to give her marriage a fresh start and remain loyal to Tony (despite her continuing love for Mark), although she knew that Mark's intentions were for her to divorce Tony and be with him
  • as for Tony, after he gave up his tennis career, he had become totally reliant on his wife's wealth; he could no longer divorce her and risk losing her financial support, if she ever reignited her affair with Mark - this prospect was highly likely, so Tony began to contemplate having Margot murdered
  • at the same time, Margot had been blackmailed over a missing (and incriminating) love letter sent from Mark; she paid off the blackmailer to arrange for the return of the purloined love letter (from her stolen purse) that she had received from Mark; Margot attempted to keep their secretive affair under wraps by paying off the blackmailer; however, the blackmailer (revealed later to be her husband who was testing his wife) never picked up the money she sent or returned the letter
  • Tony was now plotting and masterminding the murder of his unfaithful wife so that he could inherit her fortune; to carry out the killing, Tony contacted Captain C.A. Lesgate/Swann (Anthony Dawson), a former Cambridge classmate (from 20 years earlier) with a petty criminal record; while Margot and Mark were out for dinner and the theatre, Tony invited Swann to his townhouse where he blackmailed, pressured or "influenced" Swann to commit the "perfect murder" of his wife for £1,000 pounds cash - a murder-for-hire
  • during their conversation, director Hitchcock's cameo was displayed; from the wall, Tony removed a framed picture of a class reunion dinner at Cambridge Univ. - a formal tuxedo-event - including Hitchcock, and both cigar-smoking Capt. Lesgate and Tony seated across the table from him
  • as leverage, Tony knew about Swann's theft of a cashbox years earlier, and also threatened that Swann could be accused of stealing Margot's handbag and writing the two blackmail notes to her; he also reminded Swann of many instances of incriminating evidence against him that he could report to the police
  • a deal was arranged - the planned murder was to occur the next night, in the living room where they were located; Tony went through the motions of the crime; at exactly 10:57 pm (presumably after Margot retired), Swann would enter using a front-door latch-key left under the hall stair carpet for him, outside the door; then, Tony would inadvertently (but purposely) dial his home number at 11:00 pm sharp - the call would bring Margot out of her bedroom to answer it; Swann would be awaiting her and strangle her; after the murder, Swann was to replace the key under the stairway carpet while exiting out the way he entered; it would be staged to look like an aborted robbery
  • the next day in preparation for the night's murder, Tony was able to deftly extract Margot's latch-key from her purse, and then surreptitiously placed it in the hallway under the stairs' carpet for Swann's use
  • as Swann arrived in the hallway of the townhouse for the dirty deed, Margot was asleep in the back bedroom; he located the key under the carpet of the 5th step, and opened the door (and then he returned the key, Margot's stolen key, to its hiding place - OFF-SCREEN)
  • in the attempted strangulation scene, the tension was ratcheted up; Tony's plan was to have his wife leave her bedroom to answer the living room phone, to enable Swann to strangle her from behind the drawn window curtains where he was hiding; at the time of the planned murder in one of the most suspenseful scenes ever filmed, Tony was on the phone and dialing M (for murder) from a hotel lobby's payphone to reach his wife; his call was to be at 11:00 pm, but the plan was botched when his watch unexpectedly stopped and it was later than expected by about 8 minutes
  • the assassin was frazzled and about to leave because of the delay, when the phone finally rang, the camera slowly panned to the left around Margot as she came into the living room and answered
  • the camera moved to view Swann's position behind the living room curtains; he approached with a twisted scarf and wrapped it around her neck, but she foiled his strong attack by fighting back; seen with a tremendous 3-D effect, she reached behind her - into the audience from the screen - searching for a weapon (a pair of scissors) to defend herself and then killed the hired assassin by stabbing him in the back; when he theatrically fell to the floor onto his back, the blades of the scissors were pushed more deeply into his body

3-D Stabbing Sequence
  • after the murder had gone awry, and Tony realized that Margot was still alive, he spoke out: "Margot?...Darling, it's me!" and promised that he would rush home; when he arrived, he entered the locked front door of the apartment with his own latch-key, and quickly improvised to cover up for his sabotaged plan: (1) took a key from Swann's pocket (he mistakenly took Swann's own apartment key) and placed it in Margot's purse (to make it look like her key wasn't missing), (2) burned Swann's scarf (the murder weapon) in the fireplace and replaced it with one of Margot's stockings (to make it look like Margot had self-inflicted neck wounds), and (3) planted Mark's letter on Swann (to make it look like Swann was the blackmailer)
  • Tony's new plan was to outwit the police and it seemed to succeed - making it appear that Margot had an ulterior motive for killing Swann (he was blackmailing her over the love letter and her affair with Mark)
  • Margot was rapidly brought to trial and convicted (and to be punished with execution); however, there were anomalies in Tony's story that ultimately didn't add up (mixed up keys, switched raincoats, etc.), and wily Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) was on the case; his objective was to prove Margot's innocence and establish Tony's guilt

Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams)

Hubbard Investigating Tony
  • during much of the second half of the film, Mark theorized or speculated with Tony about what actually happened to save Margot's life, and in fact, his theory was extremely close to the truth - that Tony had paid Swann to kill his wife Margot; Tony blamed Margot for an attache case with 'blackmail' money to pay off Swann, but she claimed she knew nothing about it
  • in the concluding scene, Hubbard had set up a trap for Tony after he found that Tony had hidden Margot's stolen front-door key in the hallway - and it was still there; he showed the key to the astonished Mark and Margot

The Stairway Key Displayed by Hubbard

An Astonished Margot and Mark

Hubbard Explaining Tony's Plan
  • Tony incriminated himself when he opened the door with the crucial duplicate latchkey (he decided to use Margot's front-door key that he had stolen from her handbag, and planted for Swann's use under the stairs carpet); it was the one that Swann had earlier retrieved from under the carpet on the 5th step of the stairs outside the apartment; Swann had entered using the planted key and immediately replaced it under the stairs' rug (off-screen); that was the reason why there was no key found on the dead assassin Swann (and there was no forced entry either, because he didn't have mud on his shoes)

Hubbard: "Once he opens that door, we shall know everything"

Tony Using the Stairway Key to Enter

After Entering, Tony Realized He Had Been Found Out
  • when Tony entered (after using the planted key) and turned, he realized he had been found out; only Tony would have known about the location of the key: (Inspector Hubbard had predicted Tony's downfall: "Once he opens that door, we shall know everything"); as the lights went on inside the apartment (symbolic of his revealed crime), he turned and found himself face-to-face with the Inspector, Margot and Mark waiting inside. With restrained British reserve, Tony congratulated the Inspector for solving the case.

Tony Blackmailing Captain Lesgate/Swann

Hitchcock's Cameo

Tony Deftly Stealing Margot's Latchkey From Her Purse

The Key Hidden Under the Carpet on the Stairs

Swann Finding Front Door Key Under Stairs' Carpet in Order to Enter Apartment's Front Door

Swann's Watch

Tony's Watch Unexpectedly Stopped

Captain Swann/Lesgate Anxiously Awaiting 11:00 pm Call

Magnified Phone During Tony's Phone Dialing, Calling Margo to Awaken Her

Margot Answering Phone in the Living Room

Tony Comforting Saved Wife After Swann's Death, But Already Plotting to Continue to Implicate Her

Margot Tried and Convicted of Murder

Mystery Writer Mark Theorizing and Speculating What Really Happened - Very Close to the Truth

Discovery of the Attache Case with 'Blackmail' Cash - Tony Blamed Margot


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z