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

Tony's Immediate Cover-Up and Frame-Up of Margot After the Botched Murder:

When Tony returned home, he entered the locked front door of the apartment. He used his own latch-key to enter the apartment. As the traumatized Margot rushed into his arms and embraced him, she explained what had happened. She had murdered the assailant in self-defense:

He put something around my throat. It felt like a stocking....I got up to answer the phone and he came from behind the curtain and tried to strangle me. I almost passed out. I felt the scissors in my hands and then he let go suddenly, and he fell on the floor.

Tony's plan was to manipulate the crime scene in order to incriminate Margot and make it look like she was being blackmailed by Swann over the love letter and her affair with Mark. He wanted it to appear that when he came to the apartment, she voluntarily let him in and then murdered him, to protect the secret of her affair.

He knew he must first cover-up any evidence that might tie him to the murder or connect him to Swann, steer as much evidence as possible against Margot, and place misleading thoughts into her head.

His actions to cover up his complicity (and to frame Margot for murder) were cleverly thought out - except for one detail.

  • He knelt by the body and postulated inaccurately that Swann must still have Margot's latch-key (from the stairs) on him in his pocket. (However, he was unaware that Swann had returned the key to the hiding spot on the stairs before entering.) He searched the corpse's pockets and found a key. [Note: It was not Margot's front-door key that he found. Much later, it was revealed that it was Swann's own apartment key.] He was able to surreptitiously place the key from Swann's pocket back into Margot's open handbag, when she went to the bathroom to take an aspirin for her headache.
  • He began to describe the crime as a botched burglary, after noticing the open garden door/window: "He must've broken in. I wonder what he was after. Those cups, I expect."
  • He asked if she had called the police (forgetting that he had specifically instructed her to not speak to anyone): "Have you called them already?"
  • He wasn't entirely truthful about what he had said to Mark - "I told him to go straight home...I didn't know what had happened. I just said that you weren't feeling well."
  • He phoned the police to report the "ghastly accident" and remained vague and evasive about what had actually happened: "I'll explain that to you when you come."

After hanging up with the police, Tony told Margot to go to bed, promising to take care of everything for her - and to 'protect' her from police questioning:

Margot: They'll want to see me.
Tony: They're not going to see you.
Margot: But they'll have to ask me questions.
Tony: They can wait until tomorrow. I'll tell them all they need to know.

  • He paused tellingly, and had an unsatisfactory answer for Margot when she asked why he had phoned: "What?. I'm sorry, darling, I'll tell you about that later."
  • He asked about the murder device, and Margot recalled: "I think it was a stocking or a scarf. Isn't it there?" (After she went to bed, he discovered the murderer's scarf on the garden patio. He took it to the fireplace, covered it with lighter fluid, and burned it.)
  • He replaced the scarf with a pair of Margot's stockings from her mending-sewing basket. He dropped one on the garden veranda, and hid the twin stocking under the large desk pad/blotter on the desk. His intention was to make it look like Margot had self-inflicted neck wounds.
  • He planted the missing love letter in Swann's trenchcoat breast-pocket, to make it appear that he was the one who had sent blackmail letters to Margot.

Soon after, the crime scene (another high-angle or top camera view, echoing Tony's earlier rehearsal of the crime) was being investigated by forensic detectives gathering evidence, taking pictures, marking the location of the dead body, etc. A blanket was placed on the floor where the body had been to cover blood stains. Tony brought in a large tray of tea cups and deliberately moved the large blotter-pad over to make room for it on the desk's surface. He intended to uncover the hidden second stocking - and succeeded.

INTERMISSION

The Inspector at the Murder Scene:

Crowds of onlookers gathered outside the Wendice residence by the following morning. Inside, Margot (in a collared grey dress with a pleated skirt) appeared dazed and pale as she spoke with Tony. He explained to her how he had answered the Sergeant who asked why she didn't immediately phone the police:

I said you didn't phone the police because you naturally assumed that I would do it from the hotel... it was the perfectly logical explanation, and he accepted it. Now, if they get the idea that we delayed reporting it, they might get nosy and start asking all sorts of questions.

The truthful answer was that Tony had specifically instructed Margot not to speak to anyone. However, he said that he gave the authorities a "slightly different story." And then to cover up his deception, Tony instructed Margot to deny that he had told her not to call the police. He wanted to make sure that they kept their stories consistent with each other to avoid discrepancies. However, the opposite would be the result - it would look like she had avoided calling the police.

The buzzer rang and Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), in charge of the criminal investigation, introduced himself to the Wendices. The Inspector had read the Sergeant's report, but wanted to ask Margot a few direct questions to hear "first-hand" from her. However, Tony made it difficult for Margot to answer - he continued to interrupt, intercede, and answer on Margot's behalf, explaining that she was "suffering from considerable shock" and couldn't think clearly. He convincingly played the role of a concerned and protective husband. Some of the remaining questions to be answered included:

  • Why was it that Tony happened to be on the phone at the exact same instant that the attack occurred? (The time of the attack was very much under question because Tony's watch had conveniently stopped, and Margot also didn't know when it occurred)
  • Did the deceased victim come through the front door or through the garden area - the only two possible entry points?
  • Who was the victim? It had been discovered where he lived, but what was his real name (and posibly he had "several" names)?
  • And had Margot ever seen or met the victim before?

Hubbard asked: "Had you ever seen him before?" and after being shown a picture of the deceased, she answered: "Why, no, of course not." She claimed she hadn't even seen him during the struggle: "I never saw him....You see, he attacked me from behind, and it was dark. I hardly saw him at all." Hubbard appeared to catch her in a contradiction - had she really not seen the victim?

Before I showed you these photographs, you said you'd never seen him before. How could you know that if you never saw his face last night?

Tony again clarified on Margot's behalf - "My wife simply means that as far as she knew, she never saw him before." When Tony looked at the pictures, he thought there was a resemblance to an old college classmate from 20 years in the past: "He's very like someone I was at college with, but the mustache makes quite a difference." Hubbard mentioned some names (Lesgate, Wilson, Swann) and Tony recalled the name of Swann - he pulled the black-and-white reunion photo from the wall and pointed him out. And then he recalled that he had seen Swann (without a mustache), by coincidence, about six months earlier at Victoria Station.

[Note: Tony's recollection was designed to tie the theft of Margot's handbag at Victoria Station a half year earlier to Swann's alleged blackmailing scheme.]

Margot was asked to provide her recollections in a 'walk-thru' - her version of the crime from the previous night:

  • she was in bed when the phone rang
  • the lights were not turned on - the only light was from her bedroom
  • she stood behind the desk to pick up the phone with her right hand
  • the attacker was hiding behind her back (behind the curtains)
  • the object used for the neck strangulation - she said it was a stocking, possibly
  • the murder weapon - the scissors - were normally kept in her mending basket but she had forgotten to put them away
  • the curtains were drawn and the garden door was locked (by Tony) before he departed

Inspector Hubbard had established that there was no sign of a forced break-in: ("Our report shows the lock's quite undamaged"). And then he wanted to know why she didn't call the police immediately. Tony circled nervously and lurked behind the Inspector and peered over his shoulder at Margot, but he needn't have been worried about her answer - she told his version of the story: "I was trying to get through to the police when I discovered my husband was on the line. I naturally thought that he would call the police from the hotel before he came here." She also claimed that she didn't call a doctor, because it was obvious that the assailant was dead - she didn't feel his pulse, and insisted that he was clearly dead - causing the Inspector to become even more suspicious:

Margot: Anyone would have realized he was dead. Just one look at those staring eyes.
Inspector: So you did see his face after all.
Margot: I saw his eyes! I can't remember his face!

The police had come to the conclusion that the victim entered through the Wendice's locked front-door in the inner hallway rather than through the French windows from the garden - and that there were only two keys to the door (Tony's and Margot's). Margot's key was in her handbag (she thought), and Tony had his key in his possession.

Evidence had concluded that the victim's shoes were not dirty, so he couldn't have entered through the garden windows:

The ground was soaking wet last night. And if he'd come in by the garden, he'd have left mud all over the carpet. As it is, he didn't leave any marks at all because he wiped his shoes on the front doormat...It's a fairly new mat and some of its fibers came off on his shoes....There is no question about it.

Tony conveniently happened to remember ("Hey, wait a minute! I think I've got it!") that when Margot's handbag was stolen at Victoria Station 6 months earlier, her key was inside. Although Margot's front-door key was in the bag when it was retrieved from lost & found two weeks later, she recalled that nothing had been taken EXCEPT for her money.

[Note: Margot did NOT mention that the love letter had been removed from her handbag.]

Tony suggested that it was possible that the thief made a copy of the stolen key (Tony: "Whoever stole the money could have copied the key"). And then the Inspector tied Tony's former classmate to the incident ("Wasn't that where you said you saw this man, sir?"). Tony made a clear connection: "That's how he got in. He had a duplicate made and then returned the original to the bag," and the Inspector agreed with the theory: "He could have had your key copied. And he could have used it to open the door." However, the Inspector then made the stunning conclusion that the scenario Tony had suggested about the assailant making a duplicate key (from the stolen one) for the front-door was completely impossible:

But, of course, he didn't....Because if he had the key would still have been on him when he died. But no key was found when we went through his pockets.

The Inspector then asked them to come with him to visit his office to make an official statement before the inquest.

The Inspector's Questioning of Mark Halliday:

As they were leaving, Mark Halliday arrived and the Inspector took the opportunity to ask him about the time Tony went to the phone at the dinner to make a call - Mark replied that it was "3 minutes after 11." The call came at the same time that Margot was attacked. Halliday remembered that Tony was going to call his boss, not Margot, and asked: "Did you phone Margot before or after your boss?" And then Margot again asked her earlier question: "Why did you telephone me last night?" But neither question was answered by Tony when the Inspector impatiently interrupted.

Tony made up another lie - he told how he couldn't remember his boss' phone number in the country, so that was why he had phoned Margot to get the number. Margot was perturbed and complained: "You mean you hauled me out of bed just to get his number!" The Inspector requested that Mark write down his name, hotel address and phone number for him just in case. To divert Tony away for a few moments, Tony was instructed to go out to the side garden gate (away from the crowds at the front gate) to check to see whether it was locked, so they might exit unobtrusively.

While Margot was in her back bedroom and Tony was outside, the Inspector turned toward Mark, knowing from the letter found in the dead man's breast-pocket, that he was Margot's paramour and the author of the love letter. He asked about how much Tony knew of their affair and the stolen letter:

Inspector: How much does he know about you and Mrs. Wendice?
Mark: I beg your pardon?
Inspector: You wrote a letter to Mrs. Wendice from New York. It was found in the dead man's inside pocket...Have you any idea how it got there?
Mark: No.

When Margot returned, the Inspector again asked her about the stolen letter: "When you lost your handbag, did you lose your letter as well?" - she replied that she didn't, but Mark contradicted her false testimony by stating: "Margot, it was found in the dead man's pocket." The Inspector added: "You did lose it, didn't you?" She modified her answer: "Yes, I did," and explained how Tony didn't know about the letter. The Inspector believed that she was being blackmailed. Realizing that Margot was potentially in trouble, he reiterated that she needed to tell the truth about her secretive affair and no longer 'protect' Tony's feelings:

Mark: It's no good, Margot. Tony will have to know about it.
Margot: No.
Mark: It's the only thing we can do.

Mark eagerly showed the Inspector the two blackmail letters or notes (mailed from Brixton) that demanded payment. Margot asserted that she had never met the blackmailer. The Inspector had become exceedingly suspicious of Margot's mis-statements, and warned her:

Mrs. Wendice. When you come to make your statement, there may be other police officers present. I shall warn you first that anything you say will be taken down and may be used in evidence. Now never mind what you've told me so far. We'll forget all about that. But from now on, tell us exactly what you know about this man and exactly what happened last night. If you try and conceal anything at all, it may put you in a very serious position.

It now appeared to the Inspector that Margot might have been hiding the fact that she was being blackmailed by the dead man over her affair. Everything that Margot had alleged about how she killed the man in self-defense couldn't be corroborated by witnesses ("Unfortunately, there were no witnesses, so we've only your word for that"). Evidence didn't point to a burglary, since the man clearly entered through the front door - he didn't have a key on him. Now it was a possibility that she had let Swann in the door by herself, purposely and intentionally stabbed him to death, and had inflicted the bruises on her throat with her own stocking. The Inspector mentioned how one stocking was found outside the window (with two knots tied in it), and its twin was hidden underneath the desk's blotter pad. And the stockings had been examined carefully, proving that they were hers:

One of the heels had been darned with some silk that didn't quite match. We found a reel of that silk in your mending basket.

Margot moved over to her mending basket, and implored her husband that she was being truthful: "Tony, there was a pair of stockings here." Playing the role of a betrayed - but still loyal - husband, Tony feigned anger and blamed the police for planting evidence ("to ensure a conviction"). He phoned a lawyer friend named Roger, and quickly explained how Margot had been attacked during a burglary, but was now being framed by the police for pre-meditated murder. The lawyer was urged to report to the Maida Vale police station immediately to defend her. The entire group departed through the garden door-window to the nearby station.

The Trial - Charged With Murder and Sentenced to Death by a Judge:

The trial was a very condensed and simply-rendered, nightmarish montage sequence. Against a purple paper backdrop in a medium close-up, the unsmiling Margot faced the camera and was wrongly convicted and sentenced (a judge's grim voice echoed):

I charge you, that on the 26th of September, you did willfully murder Charles Alexander Swann. Do you wish to say anything in answer to this charge?

Margot responded by negatively shaking her head to a few further accusations that were summarized in an audio montage:

  • And did you, at any time in your life, meet this man Swann?
  • You received a letter from Mr. Halliday. This letter was found in the dead man's pocket. Now you say you did not know him.
  • Do you find the prisoner, Margot Mary Wendice, guilty or not guilty?

The backdrop morphed and rotated through various colors and light shades, and then turned to red as she was pronounced "GUILTY." A judge seated before her, with a black triangular piece of cloth placed on his head, delivered her sentence - she was to be executed for murder:

The sentence of this court is that you be taken to the place from whence you came, from thence to a place of lawful execution.

[Note: It was very unusual that a crucial question still raised some doubts and had not been answered - how did Swann get in without evidence of a key?]

Mark and Tony's Discussion About Saving Margot - A New Crime Scenario:

Several months later, just one day before Margot's scheduled execution, Mark arrived in a taxi outside the Wendice's apartment. As he pulled up, he saw Tony enter. Inside the apartment, a bed had been positioned in the middle of the living room. Tony carried his black attache case into the back bedroom, and hurriedly covered it up with a bedspread when Mark sounded the door-buzzer.

Desperate to prove Margot's innocence and "save her life," Mark proposed to Tony a last-minute way to prevent her execution ("I believe it's her only chance"). He excitedly suggested a plan to save her - to reveal that Margot had been telling the truth all along.

Margot was convicted because nobody believed her story. The prosecution made out she was telling one lie after another and the jury believed him. But what did his case really amount to? Just three things: My letter, her stocking and the fact that because no key was found on Swann, she must've let him in herself.

Tony would have to go to the police with a new inventive story - anything to convince them that Margot wasn't lying about the three things that were the crux of her guilt. He would have to testify with a completely new and alternative scenario, to save Margot from hanging. As a writer of TV scripts involving murder, Mark's fervent mind had come up with another possible explanation for what happened to Margot: ("I've been writing this stuff for years. I've figured out something for you to tell them. Now, let's take those points one by one").

BECAUSE THERE WAS NO FORCED ENTRY, HOW DID SWANN ENTER THE LOCKED FRONT DOOR WITHOUT A KEY?
Mark: Margot says she never let Swann in through this door. Okay. He must have opened it somehow. Suppose you tell the police that you left your key out here somewhere? Then Swann could have let himself in.
Tony: How did he know it was there?
Mark: You told him.
Tony: But I haven't met Swann in 20 years.
Mark: Tony, Swann is dead. Now we've gotta make the most of that. You can tell any story you like about him. Now you can even say, well, that you two met somewhere and you planned this whole thing together.
Tony: Planned what? Are you suggesting I arranged for Swann to come here that night to blackmail her?
Mark: No. To kill her.
Tony: Kill Margot?
Mark: That's it.

Mark provided a simple answer to the one sticking point in the testimony about how Swann entered the apartment. (There was no evidence of a forced break-in and no key found on Swann.) With his theory that Tony had left a key in the hallway for the killer, he could deflect everyone's belief that Margot had let Swann in.

Mark continually stressed that Tony only had to concur with Margot's testimony ("All you've got to do is support everything she said") - that she was the blackmailer's target. Swann had been hired to kill Margot, but that she killed her attacker in self-defense, and she had clearly asserted as much: "He came from behind the curtain and he tried to strangle me."

WHY WAS MARK'S LOVE LETTER FOUND IN SWANN'S POCKET?
WHY WERE MARGOT'S STOCKINGS AT THE CRIME SCENE?
Tony: What about your letter? A man doesn't kill the person he blackmails. That doesn't make sense.
Mark: Yes, I know that. It worried me for awhile too, but I've got that licked. You tell them that you stole her handbag yourself.
Tony: Why should I do that?
Mark: Because you wanted to read my letter. And when you had read it, you got mad and decided to teach her a lesson. So you wrote those blackmail notes. Nobody can prove you didn't. And you can also say you never saw Swann at Victoria Station. You just invented that to try to connect him with my letter. Don't you see, Tony, how it all hangs together?
Tony: But your letter was found in his pocket.
Mark: Well, you put it [the love letter] there.
Tony: When?
Mark: Sometime before the police arrived. And you could have also planted the stockings at the same time.

[Note: Mark's new scenario was almost EXACTLY what had actually happened, and was entirely based on Margot's explicit testimony. Tony should assume all the blame for planning the murder, because he had stolen Margot's handbag to acquire the letter, set up the blackmail scheme, and then had hired Swann and coordinated with him to murder his wife. Tony had provided Swann with the front-door key somehow, and planted the stolen love letter from Margot's handbag in the dead Swann's pocket, and also placed Margot's stockings at the crime scene. The only thing that sent the murder off-track was when Margot defended herself and turned the tables on Swann.]

Tony would have to change his story (and possibly commit perjury and even implicate himself) and confess to the murder plot, to save Margot from hanging. Tony pleaded how he was innocent, asking incredulously that he didn't have a clear motive: "Why should I want anyone to kill Margot?" Mark responded with sympathy: "I know, Tony. It's tough for us to see because we - we both love her. But we need a reason now. We need it badly!"

Mark brought up one of the most common, "old stock motives" for murder - financial gain. Tony was presumably Margot's beneficiary in her will. It then dawned on Tony that if he now tried to save his wife, he couldn't be accused of trying to acquire her wealth. Mark realized that Tony's desperate attempt to save Margot with changed testimony had a very credible motivation: "I certainly think it's worth that try." The new story would save Margot's life, but it would also shift all the blame on Tony. However, he also couldn't be convicted for an uncommitted crime. He might be sent to prison for a few years for conspiracy to murder - but it would be a much lesser punishment than Margot's death:

Let's face it, they can't hang you for a murder that never came off. The most you'd get would be a few years in prison...It's a small price to pay, Tony. You'd be saving her life!

Tensions flared between them briefly when Tony pointed out that it was Margot's promiscuous association with Mark that lost her the sympathy of the jury.

Her life wouldn't be in danger at all if it hadn't been for you. It's because of her association with you that she lost the sympathy of the jury.

Tony disregarded and ridiculed Mark's preposterous idea, but thanked him for his concern. He ended the conversation, claiming that no one would ever believe an unconvincing new tale:

Don't get me wrong, Mark. If there was the slightest chance of this coming off, of course I'd do it. But it's got to be convincing...I'm afraid you'll have to think of something better than that. I know you're trying to help. But can you imagine anyone believing a story like that?

Tony was most miffed by Mark's assertion that he paid off Swann with money that he didn't possess: "People don't commit murder on credit." And he added how Mark's intervention in concocting the story would be entirely suspect: "They know the kinda stuff I write. We wouldn't stand a chance, then."


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