Best Film
Deaths Scenes


Greatest Movie Death Scenes
Title Screen
Film Title/Year and Description

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

In this dramatic western, the three accused and suspected men were led to the base of a gnarled tree for a hanging, where three nooses had been hanging prominently and ominously throughout the previous sequence. A reluctant Gerald Tetley (William Eythe) was ordered to participate by his father Major Tetley (Frank Conroy):

Gerald: I can't.
Major Tetley: We'll see to it that you can.
Gil Carter: The kid's seen enough already. Why don't you let him alone?
Major Tetley: (to Carter) This is not your affair, Carter. Thank you just the same. (to his son) I'll have no female boys bearing my name. You'll do your part and say nothing more.

As the hands of the three suspects were tied behind their backs, one of them, doomed Donald Martin (Dana Andrews) pleaded with Major Tetley for reconsideration:

Justice? What do you care about justice? You don't even care whether you've got the right men or not. All you know is you've lost something and somebody's got to be punished...You butcher!

Cowpoke drifter Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) attempted to defend them, but was restrained and silenced by the vigilante mob. The victims, with ropes around their necks, were placed on horses that were whipped out from underneath them. Gerald received a vicious gun butt in the face from his father for refusing to whip one of the horses.

The shadows of the three men's bodies were seen swinging on the ground. To "finish 'em," Jeff Farnley (Marc Lawrence) fired bullets from his rifle into all three men to ensure that they were dead. The posse left as Sparks (Leigh Whipper) sang about each of the three souls journeying through the Lonesome Valley and standing alone before their Maker.

Donald Martin (Dana Andrews)

Juan Martínez (Anthony Quinn)

Alva 'Dad' Hardwicke (Francis Ford)

Three Noose Vigilante Hanging

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

In a thrilling concluding scene set on a moving train in the platform between train cars, there was a struggle between Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) - the "Merry Widow Murderer " - and his young niece Charlie (Teresa Wright). As the train began to move faster, he seized her as she panicked and tried to break away. His face was absolutely monstrous as he advanced on her.

She struggled into the space between the cars, while he gripped her mouth and throat and opened the door to fling her onto the tracks. He explained his homicidal intentions: "I've got to do this, Charlie, so long as you know what you do about me." He twisted her around in his tight embrace, as she grappled with him. He lifted her off the ground - her legs dangled in the air. Her black-gloved hand gripped the door handle and then lost its hold.

Both watched the passing blur of landscape and tracks (two parallel railway tracks became one), delaying the inevitable plunge into death. Uncle Charles prepared her by waiting for the right moment of lethal speed and exhilaration (and sexual receptiveness), educating her to the monstrous world that he earlier said she must learn - as his twin:

"Not yet, Charlie, let it get a little faster! Just a little faster! Faster! Now!"

She reversed positions on him, upset his balance and pushed him away - he fell headlong into the path of an oncoming, speeding train on an adjacent track. Her act freed him from his (and her) nightmares and from his curse to kill - she fulfilled her earlier threat ("I'll kill you myself"), aiding her uncle to embrace death.

The image dissolved to the one of dancing couples twirling to the Merry Widow Waltz.

Death of Uncle Charlie

The Song of Bernadette (1943)

In the film's conclusion was the moving death of Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones). Her deathbed was surrounded by other nuns and priests as the last rites were read. Bernadette worried that she wouldn't ever see the Virgin Mary (Linda Darnell) again:

Where are you, Madame? Where are you? She's gone...I won't see her. I'll never see her again. Never, never, I'll never see...

Then, about at the moment of death, she raised her head from the pillow and experienced a final visitation from the Virgin Mary who held out her arms, and smiled. Bernadette responded:

"I love you! I love you! Holy Mary, Mother of God. Pray for me."

After her death, Father Peyramale (Charles Bickford) stated: ("You are now in Heaven and on Earth. Your life begins, O Bernadette").

Superimposed bells began to peal from the church tower, and there was a chorus of "Hallelujahs," as the film concluded.

Vision of the Virgin Mary

Laura (1944)

In the drama's climactic scene, 'Laura Hunt' murderer Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), in a passionate rage, was about to mortally wound the real Laura (Gene Tierney) with a shotgun.

When Laura was left alone, Waldo snuck back into her apartment, past the ticking grandfather clock. He was about to murder Laura (for the second time!) because she had fallen in love with Detective McPherson (Dana Andrews) and was not returning his love.

Lydecker removed the shotgun from the clock's base, reloaded the murder weapon, and became startled when he heard his own mellifluous voice on a pre-recorded radio broadcast that Laura played within her bedroom. Lydecker's sick fantasy was echoed in his own poetic broadcast about how Love lasted beyond death:

And thus, as history has proved, Love is Eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human actions throughout centuries. Love is stronger than Life. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of Death. I close this evening's broadcast with some favorite lines...Brief Life - They are not long, the weeping and the laughter, love and desire and hate. I think they have no portion in us after we pass the gate...They are not long, the days of wine and roses. Out of a misty dream, our path emerges for a while, then closes within a dream.

In her bedroom as Laura prepared to retire, Lydecker broke her out of her reverie and shocked her with his appearance. He vowed to kill her, rather than lose her to McPherson:

The best part of myself - that's what you are. Do you think I'm going to leave it to the vulgar pawing of a second-rate detective who thinks you're a dame? Do you think I could bear the thought of him holding you in his arms, kissing you, loving you?

He raised his shotgun: "There he is now. He'll find us together, Laura as we always have been and we always should be, as we always will be." His words strongly implied that he intended a murder/suicide. Laura deflected the aim of the shotgun upward as it went off.

McPherson broke down the door just in time to save her and have her run and fall into his arms. Waldo was mortally wounded in an exchange of gunfire with the police. A shotgun blast went wild and shattered the face of the grandfather clock.

As Waldo was dying and uttered her name ("Goodbye, Laura"), she rushed to his side. The camera rested on the clock as Lydecker's final words were delivered off-screen with a theatrical flourish:

Goodbye, my love.

Threatening Laura With a Shotgun

Lydecker Shot Dead

Mortally Wounded: "Goodbye, Laura. Goodbye, my love."

Shattered Clock

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

In this film noir's twist ending and violent conclusion set in a beach house, as detective Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) was about to be shot dead by promiscuous femme fatale Mrs. Helen Grayle/Velma (Claire Trevor), her stepdaughter Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley) and Helen's jealous, love-sick millionaire husband Mr. Grayle (Miles Mander) entered. Mr. Grayle was ordered to take Marlowe's gun from his inside pocket.

After Mr. Grayle heard Marlowe state that love-struck ex-con Moose Malloy's (Mike Mazurki) infatuation with his unfaithful wife Helen (who had a double identity as Velma Valento) had led to criminal kingpin Jules Amthor's (Otto Kruger) death, he jealously shot his wife dead (with Marlowe's gun).

Helen Pulling a Gun on Marlowe For Figuring Out Her Many Lies and Schemes

Mrs. Grayle Fell Dead into Marlowe's Arms

Love-struck ex-con Moose Malloy, who had been searching for Velma for 8 years, heard the shot from outside and rushed inside, where he reacted to Helen's lifeless body on the sofa:

"She ain't hardly changed... just like always, only more fancy. Cute as lace pants...always..."

Mr. Grayle angrily reached for the gun a second time to protect himself from a retaliatory Moose and shot him dead; Marlowe's eyes were temporarily scorched and blinded by the gun blast when he attempted to intercede; they struggled for the gun and two more gunshots were heard off-screen - they both died from lethal gunfire.

Moose's Eulogy for Helen Lying Dead on the Sofa

Philip Marlowe Blinded By Mr. Grayle's Murder of Moose - The First Shot

Detour (1945)

The nightmarish flashback story in the bleak, film-noir classic was cynically narrated, with almost non-stop voice-over, by a world-weary, fatalistic, self-pitying, down-and-out hitchhiker Al Roberts (Tom Neal), while sitting in a tawdry diner in Reno, Nevada.

Despicable hitchhiker Vera (Ann Savage) was accidentally strangled by the doomed protagonist with a telephone cord, behind a closed door in their rented, cheap Hollywood hotel room. It occurred during a vicious argument when the drunken femme fatale threatened to call the Hollywood police station on him.

You won't be dreamin' when the law taps you on the shoulder. There's a cute little gas chamber waitin' for you, Roberts, and I hear extradition to Arizona's a cinch...I'm gonna get even with you!

After she called him a "yellow stinker" and accused him of not being a "gentleman," she ordered him to open up the windows. It was a ploy - she grabbed the phone and raced into the adjoining room where she locked herself in, to carry out her plan. He pulled on the long phone cord extension, which she had inexplicably wrapped around her neck. When she ignored his promise to do anything she asked for, he began yanking on the cord and pulled it as tightly as possibly (with a close-up of his straining fists).

Then, he broke down the door and saw her body lying backwards on the bed - reflected in a mirror, with her head hanging off the end. He hung up the phone and then looked around, realizing how incriminating everything looked. Now self-pitying Roberts had another murder to be accounted for, and he knew his fate was sealed as a guilty man:

(voice-over) The world is full of skeptics. I know. I'm one myself. And the Haskell business, how many of you would believe he fell out of the car. Now after killing Vera without really meaning to do it, how many of you would believe it wasn't premeditated? In a jury room, every last man of you would go down shouting that she had me over a barrel and my only out was force.

The room was still. So quiet that for awhile, I wondered if I had suddenly gone deaf. It was pure fear, of course, and I was hysterical but without making a sound. Vera was dead, and I was her murderer. Murderer! What an awful word that is. But I'd become one. I'd better not get caught. What evidence there was around the place had to be destroyed. And from the looks of things, there was plenty. Looking around the room at things we'd bought was like looking into the faces of a hundred people who'd seen us together and who remembered me. This was the kind of testimony I couldn't rub out. No, I could burn clothes and hide bottles for the next five years. There'd always be witnesses. The landlady for one, she could identify me; the car dealer; the waitress in the drive-in; the girl in the dress shop and that guy in the liquor store - they could all identify me.

This was a second disastrous twist of fate for Roberts - signified by the in-and-out of focus shots from his deranged mental state and POV as he looked around the incriminating bedroom.

I was cooked, done-for. I had to get out of there. While once I'd remain beside a dead body, planning carefully how to avoid being accused of killing him, this time I couldn't. This time I was guilty, I knew it, felt it. I was like a guy suffering from shock. Things were whirling around in my head. I couldn't make myself think right. All I could think of was the guy with the saxophone and what he was playing. It wasn't a love-song anymore. It was a dirge.

In the final sequence, Al was back in the tawdry Reno, NV diner (was the directionless Al on his way back East?) following the extensive flashback; he realized his previous identity as Al Roberts could never be resurrected - and he had nowhere to go: ("I had to stay away from New York for all time, 'cause Al Roberts was listed as dead and had to stay dead. And I could never go back to Hollywood. Someone might recognize me as Haskell. Then too, there was Sue. I could never go to her with a thing like this hanging over my head. All I could do was pray she'd be happy").

He had few alternatives left. As he departed from the Reno, Nevada diner where he had been relating his woeful tale, his voice-over continued with the film's final lines of dialogue:

I was in Bakersfield before I read that Vera's body was discovered, and that the police were looking for Haskell in connection with his wife's murder. Isn't that a laugh? Haskell got me into this mess, and Haskell was getting me out of it. The police were searching for a dead man. I keep trying to forget what happened, and wonder what my life might have been if that car of Haskell's hadn't stopped. But one thing I don't have to wonder about. I know, someday a car will stop to pick me up that I never thumbed. Yes, fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.

He imagined his arrest by a Highway Patrol car outside the diner (to appease the Hays Code censors of the time) for the murder of his 'wife' Vera.

Al Roberts (Tom Neal) - Flashbacked Story of His Own Fate Told in Reno Diner

Lethal Accident - Vera's Strangulation in Bedroom (Behind Locked Door) with Phone Cord

Roberts - Murderer!

Returning to The Present:
Back in the Diner

Arrested by the Highway Patrol Outside the Diner

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

An uncaring, sunglasses-wearing femme fatale Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) watched from a rowboat as her young, paraplegic brother-in-law Danny Harland (Darryl Hickman) drowned before her in a Maine lake.

The scene began with her cheerfully assisting Danny in applying suntan lotion before he slipped into the water from the boat. He asked: "Can I swim all the way across today?" When she asked: "Do you think you can make it?", he assured: "Why sure? I made it three-quarters yesterday and I wasn't a bit tired." She followed in the rowboat, and promised he didn't have to worry about his direction: "I'll keep you on your course." She steered him into the middle of the lake and noted: "You're not making very much progress, Danny. Are you alright?"

When he became winded and had a kink in his side, he admitted he was getting tired. She told him to "take it easy," but then pushed him further: "You don't want to give up when you've come so far." When he became exhausted and distressed in the water from severe stomach cramps (after eating a large lunch), Ellen passively watched as he called out: "Help me!" He submerged twice and then disappeared under the surface. She pretended to assist him by diving in, but it was obviously too late.

In the film's conclusion, the jealousy-possessed Ellen committed suicide with poison to 'frame' her foster sister Ruth Berent (Jeanne Crain), after her novelist husband Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) finally walked out on her.

Passively Watching an "Accidental" Drowning

Spellbound (1945)

In the conclusion of Alfred Hitchcock's superb mystery thriller set in a psychiatric institution, there was a shocking confrontational scene that led to a surprise suicide death.

At a Vermont mental hospital-asylum (Green Manors), a new handsome psychiatrist named Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck) had arrived to replace the outgoing director or head of the institution, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). At the same time, Murchison had been mentoring for six months an intellectual, cool-minded Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman), another psychoanalyst.

Dr. Petersen engaged in a love affair with the handsome new director of Green Manors, Dr. Edwardes. As their love deepened, she began to become concerned about Edwardes' mental state. He suffered from paranoia, neurosis and memory loss (amnesia), frequently saw disturbing images, including recurring lines on a white background, parallel fork lines on a tablecloth, lines on a robe, and patterns on a bedspread, for instance. She also began to rationally suspect that Dr. Edwardes was delusional and possibly homicidal, and had murdered the real Dr. Edwardes.

As a result of Dr. Petersen's probing, 'Edwardes' actually admitted that he was an imposter, and expressed fears that he may have killed the real Dr. Edwardes, and then taken his place. He fled from the institution, with Dr. Petersen in pursuit. Once she located him in NYC, she encouraged him to use psychoanalysis to discover what really happened. Imposter Edwardes had taken the name 'John Brown' - and would soon remember that his real name was Dr. John Ballantyne (or "JB") (also Gregory Peck).

During dream analysis, Ballantyne had described playing blackjack (21) at a gambling house (with eyes painted on curtains), a bearded elderly man and an angry faceless proprietor, including images of a sloping roof, the proprietor with a misshapen wheel, and pursuit by a giant pair of wings - (the sloping roof was tied to JB's memory of his brother's accidental and tragic death by impalement on a spiked fence, when he slid down the roof and accidentally knocked his brother off - killing him on the spiked railing).

In the film's plot twist, the parallel lines in the imposter's dreams represented his partial, corrupted memories of a traumatic ski accident at Gabriel Valley that he had witnessed. (He had actually witnessed the death of the real Dr. Edwardes, his own analyst, on the ski slope, but repressed it. Ballantyne recalled watching his ski partner fall off a steep precipice and die during a skiing vacation.) When the police arrived on the scene and recovered Edwardes' actual corpse, they discovered a bullet wound in the body's back, and suspected John Ballantyne of murder. Ballantyne was convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

In the film's ending, Dr. Petersen realized Murchison's treachery after he said: "I knew Edwardes only slightly. I never really liked him. But he was a good man, in a way, I suppose." He contradicted his earlier statement that they had never met. She immediately knew that if he had known Edwardes, he shouldn't have mistaken the imposter Ballantyne for Edwardes.

In Dr. Murchison's office, Dr. Petersen (from her notes) encouraged Murchison to interpret some of Ballantyne's dream symbolism, and he complied, implicating himself as Dr. Edwardes' murderer. Motivated by jealousy and not wanting his job stolen, Murchison revealed that he had used Ballantyne's disabilities to frame him for the murder of Edwardes (there was a bullet in his body, delivered from Murchison's gun in full view of Ballantyne at the edge of the cliff). He had skiied off the precipice, but had already been shot in the back.

Even before she had stated factual evidence that could convict Dr. Murchison ("There will be no dreams necessary for this case"), he had pulled his murder weapon from his desk, and held it toward her. While threatening her because of her knowledge of his crime, he appeared unworried about the consequences: "The punishment for two murders is the same as for one." She struck back: "You're not going to commit a second murder, Dr. Murchison." He made it clear that he had deadly intentions: "I hadn't planned to, but you're here. You're not leaving."

Dr. Petersen cautioned him to not murder her. She asserted that his previous crimes might result in a life sentence or a prison term, but that he would undoubtedly get the death penalty (electric chair) for pre-meditated murder: "A man with your intelligence does not commit a stupid murder. You're thinking you were not mentally responsible for that other crime in the snow. They'll find extenuating circumstances in the state of your health. They'll not execute you for the death of Dr. Edwardes. You can still live, read, write, research, even if you are put away. You're thinking that now, Dr. Murchison."

He pointed his gun at her back and tracked her (from his POV) as she stood up and moved toward the exit door. She continued: " If you shoot now, it is cold, deliberate murder. You'll be tried as a sane murderer, convicted as a sane man, and killed in the electric chair for your crime." She announced that she was leaving the room to phone the police.

He memorably committed suicide in the conclusion by turning the gun on himself (toward the camera) and pulling the trigger after she left his office and shut the door. It was a shocking first person point-of-view shot, with a fraction-of-a second splash of red color (in the B/W film).

Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) Describing John Ballantyne's Incriminating Dream to Dr. Murchison

Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) Pulling Out His Revolver

Murder Weapon Pointed at Dr. Constance Petersen, Then Used For Murchison's Own Suicide

Greatest Movie Death Scenes
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