Filmsite Movie Review
Dial M For Murder (1954)
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The Story (continued)

Tony's Blackmail Scheme - Singling Out Lesgate/Swann as the Perfect Candidate:

Tony then switched directions in the story, and circled around to something that 'changed his mind' about everything - his newfound knowledge about Swann ("I saw you!"). At a reunion dinner, he heard "news" about Swann's petty criminal past, including a court-martial and prison term during the war - and then he reiterated that everyone had earlier assumed that Swann had stolen the cashbox money: ("Everybody knew you took that money!"):

...the fellows were talking about you. How you had been court-martialed during the war. A year in prison. That was news.

Uncomfortable with Tony's accusatory tone, Swann rose to leave: "Thanks very much for the drink. Interesting, hearing about your matrimonial affairs." Tony urged Swann to remain - as he rested his chin on his cane - and slyly looked up: "Don't you want me to tell you why I brought you here?" Tony left his cane on his chair - he obviously had been faking an ailment.

Tony began another long diatribe about how Swann figured into his machinations, after - by chance, he had seen him at a pub. He explained his personal finances - Tony and Margot had named each other as beneficiaries in their wills, with assets and money totaling £90,000, but he would be entirely suspect if he murdered her outright. He then thought of how Swann could provide the perfect "alibi":

It was when I saw you in that pub that it happened. Suddenly, everything became quite clear. Only a few months before, Margot and I had made our wills. Quite short affairs, leaving everything we had to each other, in case of accidents. Hers worked out at just over £90,000. Investments mostly, all a little too easy to get at - and that was dangerous. They would be bound to suspect me.

I need an alibi, a very good one. Then I saw you. I'd often wondered what happened to people when they came out of prison. People like you, I mean. Can they get jobs?. Do old friends rally round? Suppose they never had any friends. I became so curious to know that I followed you. I followed you home that night and - ... I've been following you ever since.

During his descriptive story-telling, Tony had been moving about the room, wiping away evidence left by Swann who had touched numerous objects in the room - the framed reunion dinner picture from the wall, an ashtray, the wine bottle, his wine glass, etc. After following him for many months, at the dog-races (twice a week) and during various courtships, Tony had begun to think that Swann might not be the best candidate to be "influenced" into engaging in something illegal:

Tony: I was hoping that sooner or later I might catch you at something and be able to --
Swann: Blackmail me?
Tony: Influence you. After a couple of weeks, I got to know your routine and that made it a lot easier...You became quite fascinating. In fact, there were times when I'd felt that you almost belonged to me.... In fact, there was nothing really illegal about you. I got quite discouraged.

But then, Tony was beginning to discover a pattern of illegal activity. He abruptly interrupted himself and suggested that Swann don the white gloves before touching anything else. When Swann accused Tony of attempted blackmail (to murder his wife) and threatened to walk to the nearest police station and report the crime, Tony calmly rebuked him. He intimated that Swann could be accused of stealing Margot's handbag and writing the two blackmail notes - and of 'blackmailing' Tony by offering him the letter for a price:

Can you prove you didn't? You certainly can't prove I did. It will be a straight case of your word against mine....I should say that you came here tonight half-drunk and tried to borrow money on the strength that we were at college together. When I refused, you mentioned something about a letter belonging to my wife. As far as I could make out, you tried to sell it to me. I gave you what money I had, and you gave me the letter. It has your fingerprints on it, remember? Then you said if I went to the police, you'd tell some crazy story about my wanting you to murder my wife.

Tony also mentioned how his reputation was spotless, and warned Swann that if he attempted to report his proposition to the police, it would undoubtedly backfire. He compared his own high standing to the poor reputation acquired by Swann:

Before you go any further, old boy, do consider the inconvenience. You see, I'm quite well-known. There'd be pictures of you, as well. And sooner or later, there'd be a deputation of landladies and lodgers who would step forward to testify to your character.

Over a period of time, Tony had amassed a great deal of intimate and damaging information about Swann's misdealings, multiple petty crimes and associations, involving fraud and murder - with "landladies and lodgers":

  • he had assumed alias names (Mr. Adams, Mr. Wilson)
  • he had failed to pay his rent and skipped out on landladies
  • he was romancing, seducing (and promising to marry) rich, lonely (and sometimes widowed) older women, such as Miss Wallace
  • he was falsely attempting to sell a vehicle (for £1,100 pounds) that wasn't his - it belonged to his latest paramour Mrs. Van Dorn (who only wanted £800 pounds for it)

The latest most culpable crime was supplying recently-deceased, over-dosed Miss Wallace with drugs or poison.

The Murder Plan - Step by Step:

With all of the incriminating evidence, Tony knew that Swann would accept his proposition - a tempting sum of £1,000 pounds, to murder his wife:

Tony: I've just had time to think things out - put myself in your position. That's why I know you're going to agree.
Swann: What makes you think I'll agree?
Tony: The same reason a donkey with a stick behind him and a carrot in front always goes forwards, not backwards.
Swann: Tell me about the carrot.
Tony: £1,000 pounds in cash.
Swann: For a murder?
Tony: For a few minutes' work, that's all it is. And no risk, I guarantee. That ought to appeal to you.

Swann rose - and now both were standing as they negotiated a 'murder-for-hire' deal. Swann appeared to be cooperative and willing. According to Tony, the pay-off money would be stashed in a small attache case in a checkroom somewhere in London:

Of course, we don't meet again. As soon as you've delivered the goods, I shall mail you the checkroom ticket and the key to the case. You take this £100 on account.

Tony tossed a wad of £100 pounds in cash (as a pre-payment) across the room at Swann, who expressed worry about the bills being traced ("The police would only have to trace one of these notes back to you to hang us both from the same rope"). Of course, Tony had meticulously plotted everything. He had been surreptitiously withdrawing small amounts of bank money for a full year, amassing a total of £1,000 in (used) one-pound (£1) notes - untraceable funds to pay a contract killer:

For a whole year, I've been cashing an extra £20 a week. Always in fivers. I then change them for those at my leisure."

Tony's bank statement proved what he claimed, and if the police questioned his account dropping £1,000 pounds during the year, he would explain: "I go dog-racing twice a week....Like you, I always bet on the tout....Satisfied?" [Note: "On the tout" meant to bet without going to bookmakers, thereby leaving no trace.]

Swann was astounded that the planned murder was to occur the next night - in the same living room where they were standing. Tony insisted and described how it would be set up. Step by step, he moved through the apartment to explain the movements of the killer (with a God's view - overhead camera shot) and to rehearse the murder. While Tony and Mark Halliday attended a stag party (with Margot at home), Swann was to be outside the apartment watching and waiting. At exactly 10:57 pm (presumably after Margot retired), he would enter using a latch-key left under the hall stair carpet for him, outside the door.

[Note: It would be Margot's own house-latch-key, that Tony planned to sneak out of her handbag and put under the carpet.]

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, who would be hiding behind the drapes near the telephone, would then strangle her. After the murder, Swann was to whistle a signal into the phone to Tony, and then hang up before leaving. He was instructed to leave the garden window open, and replace the key under the stairway carpet while exiting out the way he entered.

It has to be tomorrow. I've arranged things that way....Tomorrow evening, Halliday - the American boyfriend, and I will go out to a stag party. She'll stay here. She'll go to bed early and listen to Saturday night theater on the radio. She always does when I'm out.

(1) At exactly three minutes to 11, you'll enter the house through the street door.
(2) You'll find the key to this door under the stair carpet here. (The fifth step.) That's the one.
(3) Go straight to the window and hide behind the curtains.
(4) At exactly 11:00 o'clock, I shall go to the telephone in the hotel to call my boss. I shall dial the wrong number, this number. That's all I shall do.
(5) When the phone rings, you'll see the light go on under her bedroom door. When she opens it, the light will stream across the room. So don't move until she answers the phone. There must be as little noise as possible.
(6) After you've finished, pick up the phone and give me a soft whistle and hang up. Don't speak, whatever you do. I shan't say a word.
(7) When I hear your whistle, I shall hang up and redial the correct number this time. I shall then talk to my boss as if nothing had happened and return to the party...

The murder in the ground-floor apartment would be staged to look like an aborted robbery:

  • Tony's suitcase (containing clothes for the cleaner) would be opened and tossed onto the floor - it would be filled with a cigarette box and some of the cups on the mantle (selected stolen items). Swann was to leave it closed (but with the locks not snapped shut) to make it appear that the criminal had left in a hurry
  • the French doors-window to the front garden would be opened and left unlocked, to explain the thief's entry and exit; however, Swann was to leave by the same way he entered, through the front door
  • "THE MOST IMPORTANT THING" - "As you go out, return the key to the place where you found it." [Note: One of the most crucial details of the plan concerned the key to the door - located under the 5th step of the hallway's stairs.]

Tony answered Swann's questions about the foolproof scenario that was being planned - Margot would be expected to investigate the commotion of a break-in from her bedroom. She would undoubtedly startle the burglar who would panic, strangle her and leave without the stolen items in the suitcase:

Swann: What exactly is supposed to have happened?
Tony: Well, they'll assume you came in by the window. You thought the apartment was empty, so you took the suitcase and went to work. She heard something. She switched on her light. You saw the light under the door and hid behind the curtains. When she came in here, you attacked her before she could scream. When you realized you'd actually killed her, you panicked, bolted through the garden and left the loot behind you.
Swann: Just a minute. I'm supposed to have come in through these windows. Suppose they'd been locked.
Tony: It wouldn't matter. You see, she often walks around the garden before she goes to bed. And she usually forgets to lock up when she gets back. That's what I shall tell the police.

Swann then reiterated how he would depart the apartment after the murder - and asked one additional crucial question about the locations of the two available keys for the front door. His query was quickly answered by Tony (as he wiped down traces of Swann's fingerprints on various objects). Before his arrival, Tony would surreptitiously take Margot's key from her handbag and hide it under the stairs, while keeping his own key so he could let himself and Mark in:

Tony: I'll bring Halliday back for a nightcap (about 12), so we'll find her together and we shall have been together since we left her. And there's my alibi.
Swann: You've forgotten something...When you get back with what's-his-name, Halliday, how will you get in the apartment?
Tony: I shall let myself in.
Swann: But your key will be under the stair carpet. He'll see you getting it out. It'll give the show away.
Tony: No. It won't be my key under the carpet. It will be hers. I shall take it from her handbag and hide it out there just before I leave the flat. She's not going out, so she won't miss it. When I come back with Halliday, I'll use my own key to let us in. Then, while he's out searching the garden or something, I'll take the key from under the carpet and return it to her bag before the police arrive.
Swann: How many keys are there to this door?
Tony: Just hers and mine.

The ringing of the telephone interrupted their conversation. As Tony spoke to Margot, Swann donned the white gloves and continued to look through the apartment - checking the lighting from the bedroom and the entryway to the garden behind the drapes. At one point, Tony cautioned Swann: "You can be seen from the bedroom window." Margot claimed she was having a 'wonderful' time with Mark, although the play was "dreadful." Tony suggested that they proceed to Gerry's for dinner, but that he couldn't join them. After the call, Swann finished his perusings, stood staring at Tony, and then walked over to the chair, picked up the advance payment of £100 pounds, rifled through them like a pack of playing cards, and stuffed the wad in his jacket pocket. A foreboding musical chord struck.

Saturday Evening Discussion About "The Perfect Murder":

The next evening (Saturday) during cocktail hour, light music played as Tony (daydreaming and staring vacantly) stirred martinis (made with vermouth and gin) and Margot and Mark sat conversing on the couch together. The camera moved from a close-up of the telephone over to Tony, and then to the living room where Margot was showing Mark various clippings of Tony's tennis career. Margot's bright red, glamorous lace dress was now replaced by a conservative dark burgundy outfit.

Tony asked about her progress in sorting and affixing them in a scrapbook album: "When are you going to finish pasting in those clippings?" She was searching for a picture of an extremely-wealthy 'Maharajah' - (an Indian prince). According to Tony, "he had four Rolls-Royces and jewels to sink a battleship, but all he really wanted was to play at Wimbledon."

As they chatted over martinis, a detective story collaboration was suggested. Mark - a TV mystery writer who often scripted crime scenarios, claimed that although he could theoretically author the 'perfect murder,' in real life, he would probably overlook some detail and undoubtedly be caught. He stated how people don't normally act according to other people's (or an author's) plans:

Mark: You should write a book about all this.
Margot: Why don't you two collaborate, a detective novel with a tennis background?
Tony: Yes, what about it, Mark? Would you provide me with the perfect murder?
Mark: Nothing I'd like better.
Tony: How do you go about writing a detective story?
Mark: Well, you forget detection and concentrate on crime. Crime's the thing. And then you imagine you're gonna steal something or murder somebody.
Tony: Oh, is that how you do it? Interesting.
Mark: Yes, I usually put myself in the criminal's shoes and I keep asking myself, uh: 'What do I do next?'
Margot: Do you really believe in the perfect murder?
Mark: Mmm. Yes, absolutely. On paper, that is. And I think I could plan one better than most people, but I doubt if I could carry it out.
Tony: Oh? Why not?
Mark: Well, because in stories, things usually turn out the way the author wants them to. And in real life, they don't, always. No. I'm afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I'd make some stupid mistake and never realize it till I find everybody is looking at me.

Positioning Margot's Latch-Key Under the Hallway Stairs:

When Mark and Tony rose to leave for the 'stag-party' dinner, Tony glanced over at his apartment door knob and lock, and asked Margot if he had lent her his latch-key - feigning its loss. She retreated to the bedroom to retrieve her handbag, as he sauntered over to the garden window and closed the drapes. She told him she didn't have his latch-key - only her own. When he asked to borrow her key, she pouted and said she might want to go out to a movie, and needed her own key. Tony realized that this would disrupt his 'perfect murder' plans and calmly attempted to manipulatively convince her to stay home (to listen to Saturday night theater on the radio), but she mentioned that he didn't need her key - she would be home to let them in: "Well, in any case, I'll be back before you, so I can let you in." Tony claimed it would be after midnight and they would awaken her - but then suddenly said he found his key. Margot returned her own latch-key to her purse and conspicuously placed her bag on a table next to the sofa.

As Tony persisted to get her to remain home (with a suggestion to do the "clippings"), she vigorously protested as she draped herself over the arm of the couch: "Oh, now, don't make me stay home. You know I hate doing nothing...You two go gallivanting while I stay home and do those boring clippings." Tony threatened to cancel their plans for the evening and remain home with her, to guilt her into acquiesing. She was astonished at his sudden reversal, but then relented after calling him "childish" - "Oh Tony, please, let's not be childish about this. All right, I'll do your old press clippings." He sulked and added: "You don't have to if you don't want to, you know."

While Mark went outside to hail a taxi, Tony helped Margot with locating the paste and a long pair of dress-maker's scissors or shears (located in her mending basket under Margot's stockings) for her scrapbook work. All the while, he eyed her handbag (he still had to remove her key and place it under the carpeted stairs for Swann). He asked to borrow some change for the taxi and picked up her purse, but she immediately strode over and possessively ordered Tony to stay away from her purse ("Hey, you leave my bag alone"). He hid the purse behind his back as she reached for it with her arms around him. During the playful struggle, he deftly removed the key from a zipped bag inside her purse, but still had to find a way to place the key in the hallway.

As the two headed out, they bid goodbye to Margot (who reminded them that she didn't want to be disturbed when they returned much later), and she shut the door. Tony then paused at the outer hallway door with Mark in the hallway with him. He suddenly turned, and walked back to his apartment door while calling out to her. When she answered the door, Tony stretched back with his right arm - leaning against the hallway stairs as he gave Margot some final instructions. He then gave her a warm goodbye kiss - patting her cheek and telling her: "Good-bye, dear." [Note He must have thought to himself that this would be the last time he would see her.] A tracking shot to the left and a close-up revealed he had successfully placed her key under the stair carpet.

The Late Phone Call and the Botched Murder:

In the dark of night according to Tony's plan, Swann walked toward the front of the townhouse-apartment. He glanced at his wrist-watch - it was exactly 10:53 pm. [Note: Swann's watch-face lacked a logo.] Margot was asleep in the back bedroom, as he entered the hallway of the townhouse, located the key under the carpet of the 5th step, and opened the door (and then, he returned the key, Margot's key, to its hiding place - OFF-SCREEN). He stealthily entered the Wendices' apartment. The only flickering light in the darkened living room emanated from a small flame in the fireplace.

Swann again looked down at his watch in the light from the drawn garden drapes - it was now 10:58 pm. [Note: Swann's watch-face now had a design or logo behind the minute hand.] He hid behind the curtains overlooking the garden, and prepared for the strangulation by winding his own white scarf between his gloved hands to create two knots, while awaiting Tony's phone call that would bring Margot out of her bedroom to answer.

At the black-tie formal dinner and stag party, Tony and Mark were listening to conversations at their round table. Seemingly bored and impatient, Tony glanced down at his watch - it was 10:40 pm according to his timepiece. A few moments later, Swann appeared from behind the curtain - looking anxiously at his watch and the silent phone - wondering why the call wasn't coming in. When Tony again looked at his watch, it was still 10:40 pm, and he realized that his wrist-watch had stopped. He asked for the correct time from one of the other gentlemen - it was "7 minutes past 11:00." Tony loudly apologized for excusing himself when he announced he was leaving to make a brief phone call to his boss. He hurriedly left the smoky room to rush to a payphone in the Grendon Hotel lobby to make the fateful phone call to his home, but had to wait a few moments for another gentleman to leave the booth. By this time, Swann was contemplating leaving the apartment - he approached the front door, stuffed the scarf into his trenchcoat pocket, and opened the door to leave.

The subsequence sequence was masterfully edited and cross-cut - moving back and forth between the phone booth and the apartment. In the phone booth, Tony entered coins into the payphone, and there was a close-up of his enlarged finger reaching for the MN (6) number on the dial, and of the phone's mechanical circuits activating and connecting. Swann paused at the opened apartment door when the living room phone finally began to ring.

As Tony's plan had anticipated, Margot awoke in her thin pale blue and white lace nightgown and entered the living room to pick up the receiver from the desk - with her back to the drapes. She was unaware that the call was Tony's signal to Swann to initiate the murder. When she picked up the phone with her right hand, no one replied as she kept asking seven times: "Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello!!" Frustrated, she kept clicking the receiver with her left hand, thinking that something was wrong with the connection. Tony listened with a concerned look, as Swann stood frozen behind her before attacking - he was waiting for her to put down the receiver. He threw the extended scarf over her head and pulled it back sharply against her neck. Her hands grabbed at the scarf, and she was able to twist around, face her assailant, and grab his neck with her two hands. He pushed her against the end of the desk and forced her downward onto the length of the desk. During the struggle, Tony gasped and winced as he listened to the groans and the sound of breaking glass from a smashed lamp.

Thrown back onto the desk, Margot valiantly tried to tear the scarf away from her neck, and pushed against her attacker's face with her right hand. Then, with the same arm reached backwards (toward the camera - an amazing effect in 3-D!), she groped and searched for the open pair of scissors behind her - ironically, the pair of scissors that Tony had urged her to use that same evening for her scrapbook clippings. Margot located the scissors, grabbed them, and stuck one end of the long and pointed implement into the middle of his back between his shoulder blades. Swann responded by pulling back sharply, then slumped over. He stood up, lurched around and vainly reached for the scissors that had impaled him. She watched as his body rolled over or pivoted as he dropped face-upward with his back hitting the floor. In doing so, the impact sent the scissors protruding from his back even deeper - and he was instantly killed.

Margot struggled to get up and reach for the receiver, dangling off the edge of the desk. With great effort, she called out: "Get the police. Quickly. Police." In a panic realizing that the obviously-shaken, distraught and sobbing Margot was alive and the murder had gone awry, Tony answered: "Margot?...Darling, it's me!" He feigned innocence as she responded to his familiar voice:

Come back at once...I can't explain now. Come quickly, please....A man attacked me. Tried to strangle me...He's dead.

On the fly, Tony quickly contrived a different way to accomplish his objective. He instructed her to not touch or speak to anyone until he returned home - and he would be there as quickly as possible. After hanging up, Margot opened the apartment's front garden door, grabbed and clutched at her neck, and gasped for air - as the scarf fell to the ground next to her. She turned back and entered the apartment, shuddered at the sight of the lifeless corpse, and rushed to her back bedroom.

Meanwhile, Tony returned to his dinner table and told Mark that he had to get home: "I have to run along. It's Margot. She's not feeling too well...No, nothing serious. You stay and enjoy yourself." While being driven home in the backseat of a taxi, Tony contemplated how he might deal with all the complexities of the situation.


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