AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Dial M for Murder
Director: Alfred Hitchcock (Dir)
Release Date:   29 May 1954
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Philadelphia, PA: 18 May 1954; New York premiere: 28 May 1954
Production Date:   5 Aug--25 Sep 1953
Duration (in mins):   105
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Cast:   Ray Milland (Tony Wendice)  
    Grace Kelly (Margot Wendice)  
    Robert Cummings (Mark Halliday)  
    John Williams (Inspector Hubbard)  
    Anthony Dawson (Capt. Lesgate, also known as C. A. Swann)  
    Leo Britt (Storyteller)  
    Patrick Allen (Pearson)  
    George Leigh (Williams)  
    George Alderson (Detective)  
    Robin Hughes (Police sergeant)  
    Sanders Clark (Detective)  
    Guy Doleman (Detective)  
    Thayer Roberts (Detective)  
    Jack Cunningham (Bobby)  
    Robert Dobson (Police photographer)  
    Maj. Sam Harris (Man in phone booth)  
    Robert Garvin (Banquet member)  
    Ben Pollock (Banquet member)  
    Richard Bender (Banquet member)  
    Dennis Martin (Voice)  
    John Farrow (Voice)  
    Gerald Hammer (Voice)  
    Michael Hadlow    

Summary: In her London apartment, wealthy Margot Wendice discusses with her American ex-lover, Mark Halliday, why she changed her mind about leaving her husband Tony. Several months ago, she explains, Tony suddenly became more affectionate and now, convinced that he cares for her, she plans to remain loyal, despite her love for Mark. Wanting a fresh start in her marriage, she is concerned about an anonymous blackmailer who stole a letter Mark wrote to her, but never picked up the money she paid or returned the letter. When Tony, a former tennis professional-turned-salesman, comes home, he announces that unexpected business matters have pre-empted their evening plans, but encourages Mark and Margot to go out without him. In consolation, he invites Mark to his club’s banquet that will be held the following evening. After they leave, Tony calls Capt. Lesgate, feigning interest in a car the man is selling. After manipulating him into meeting at the apartment to negotiate, Tony surprises Lesgate by revealing that they are former Cambridge schoolmates and that he is aware of several illegal activities in which the small-time crook has been involved. Intimating that he married for money, Tony tells Lesgate that he stole Margot’s letter and blackmailed her to confirm her affair with Mark. Anticipating that she will leave him, Tony wants Margot killed before she takes off with her wealth, and blackmails Lesgate into agreeing to do the killing. As further enticement, Tony promises to pay Lesgate with money that he has been surreptitiously amassing through small bank withdrawals over the past year. As his reputation is spotless, Tony warns Lesgate that attempting to report his proposition to the police will backfire. After Lesgate agrees to cooperate, Tony unveils his elaborate plan: On the following evening, while Tony and Mark attend the banquet, Lesgate is to watch the apartment and when Margot retires, enter using Margot’s own house key, which Tony plans to sneak out of her handbag and put under the stairway carpet outside their door. At a specified time, Tony will call, and when Margot gets up to answer, Lesgate, who will be hiding behind drapes near the telephone, is to strangle her. When the deed is done, Lesgate is to whistle into the phone and hang up. Before leaving, he is to leave the garden window open and replace the key under the stairway carpet. The next evening, while chatting over cocktails, Tony’s interest is piqued when Mark, who is a television mystery writer, claims that, although he can write the “perfect murder,” in real life he would overlook some detail and be caught. Before he and Mark leave for the club, Tony gets the key from Margot's handbag and manipulates her into staying home to clip articles for his scrapbook. At the club, Tony excuses himself from the table, saying he must call his boss, but instead calls home. Meanwhile, after Lesgate has unlocked the apartment door and returned the key to its hiding place, he waits inside the dark apartment. When Margot gets up to answer the phone, Lesgate tries to strangle her with a stocking, but she struggles and stabs him in the back with a pair of scissors that she used to clip Tony’s articles. Lesgate falls on the scissors and dies. Tony, on the other end of the phone line, hearing his plans go awry, quickly contrives a different way to accomplish his goal. He talks into the phone and the shaken Margot, recognizing his voice, tells him what happened. After telling her that he will call the police, Tony immediately goes home. Later, at the apartment, while pretending to “protect” Margot from police questioning, he sneaks the key in Lesgate’s pocket into Margot’s handbag and leaves the love letter where police find it. Other evidence indicates that Lesgate did not come in through the garden window, so Inspector Hubbard, who is in charge of the case, concludes that Margot let in and killed Lesgate, who was blackmailing her. Although Hubbard finds it odd that no key is found on Lesgate’s body, Margot is arrested, tried and sentenced to death. Tony, while waiting to inherit her fortune, begins paying his bills with the cash meant for Lesgate. On the day before Margot’s scheduled execution, Mark shows up at the apartment urging Tony to invent a story to save Margot’s life. As an example, Mark suggests that Tony “confess” that he hired Lesgate to kill Margot, but that she killed her attacker in self-defense. Tony would be safe from prosecution, Mark says, as he could not be convicted for an uncommitted crime. Tony refuses, saying the police would never believe such a story. When Hubbard unexpectedly shows up, Mark hides in the bedroom. While he overhears the inspector inquire about the large amounts of cast Tony appears to have on hand, Mark finds the briefcase of money that was meant to pay off Lesgate. With briefcase in hand, Mark confronts Tony in front of Hubbard, but Tony dismisses Mark’s and Hubbard’s questions by claiming that the briefcase contains Margot’s payoff to Lesgate, which he concealed to hide her guilt. Before leaving, Hubbard reminds Tony to collect Margot’s belongings at the police station and then secretly exchanges his own raincoat for Tony’s. Later, when the apartment is vacant, Hubbard enters with Tony’s key, followed by Mark. Plainclothesmen bring Margot to the apartment and show her in when she is unable to enter using the key in her handbag. As they wait, Hubbard intimates that he needs proof of his suspicions about Tony and has his men return Margot’s handbag to the station. Later, Tony arrives, but has no key to get in. Now aware that he has the wrong raincoat, he proceeds to the police station and later returns with Margot’s effects, including her handbag. When he again fails to open the door, this time using Margot’s key, Tony realizes that the key he took from Lesgate’s pocket on the night of the attempted murder was the dead man’s own, so he checks under the stairway carpet, retrieves the key he took from Margot’s handbag and unlocks the door. Upon finding Hubbard, Mark and Margot waiting inside, Tony acknowledges that his scheme failed and congratulates Hubbard for correctly solving the case.



 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Brand Name: A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Alfred Hitchcock (Dir)
  Mel Dellar (Asst dir)
  Gibson Carter (2d asst dir)
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock (Prod)
Writer: Frederick Knott (Scr)
Photography: Robert Burks (Dir of photog)
  Wesley Anderson (Cam op)
  Leonard South (Cam tech)
  Eddie Leon Albert (Cam asst)
  Bill Ranaldi (Cam asst)
  Pat Clark (Stills)
  Louis Mashmeyer (Grip)
  Vic Johnson (Gaffer)
  Claude Swanner (Best boy)
Art Direction: Edward Carrere (Art dir)
Film Editor: Rudi Fehr (Film ed)
Set Decoration: George James Hopkins (Set dec)
  Limey Plews (Props)
Costumes: Moss Mabry (Ward)
  Lillian House (Ladies' ward)
  Jack Delaney (Mens' ward)
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin (Mus comp and cond)
Sound: Oliver S. Garretson (Sd)
  Robert Wayne (Sd)
  Stanley Martin (Sd)
Make Up: Gordon Bau (Makeup artist)
  Otis Malcolm (Makeup)
  Gertrude Wheeler (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Rita Michaels (Script supv)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the play Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knott (London, 19 Jun 1952).
Authors: Frederick Knott

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 29/5/1954 dd/mm/yyyy LP4758

PCA NO: 16708
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System
  col: WarnerColor
  Widescreen/ratio: Natural Vision 3-D
  Widescreen/ratio: 1.85:1

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Suspense
 
Subjects (Major): Attempted murder
  Fortune hunters
  Frame-ups
  London (England)
  Police inspectors
  Self-defense
  Wife murder
 
Subjects (Minor): Alibi
  Americans in foreign countries
  Blackmail
  Confession (Law)
  Evidence
  Handbags
  Infidelity
  Jealousy
  Keys
  Love letters
  Lure of riches
  Stabbings
  Telephone
  Television writers
  Tennis and tennis players
  Trials

Note: The opening title card reads: “Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder Color by WarnerColor.” According to a Jun 1953 Var article, Sir Alexander Korda saw the BBC-TV production, Dial M for Murder , and bought the rights for $2,800 shortly before a stage version opened at Westminster Theatre in London in Jun 1952. He resold the film rights to Warner Bros. for $75,000, with the stipulation that staged versions close prior to the release of the film. Although, according to the article, potential producers were leery of backing a Broadway production because of the clause, actor Maurice Evans negotiated an agreement in which Korda got two percent of the gross of the Broadway stage production, which opened in Oct 1952, in return for the postponement of the screen version until the fall of 1954. An Apr 1954 DV news item reported that, because of the agreement, Warner Bros. was forced to postpone multiple city press previews of the film, but the film had its premiere in late May 1954.
       According to the HR review, the screenplay kept the original play’s book intact, and also like the play, action occurred almost entirely on one set. Only Frederick Knott is credited onscreen for adapting his original play, however, Ted Sherdeman is credited on the CBCS for the story. Sherdeman's contribution to the final film has not been determined. English actor John Williams, who made his film debut in Dial M for Murder , and Anthony Dawson reprised their Broadway roles for the film. As noted in an Oct 1953 NYT news item, producer-director Hitchcock made his customary cameo appearance in the film by posing as one of the classmates in a school photograph.
       Grace Kelly, who critics have labelled the quintessential Hitchcock blonde, was loaned from M-G-M for the production; Dial M for Murder marked her first collaboration with Hitchcock. In the Time review, Hitchcock described Kelly as a “rare thing in movies…fit for any leading-lady part” and expressed that her “youthful,” but “not juvenile” appearance suggested an intelligence that compared with Ingrid Bergman’s. According to a modern source, Hitchcock claimed Kelly was the most cooperative actress he ever directed. She would star in two more of his films before her 1956 marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, whom she met while filming Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief . According to various news items, Kelly was to star in a fourth Hitchcock film, Marnie (1964), but her constituents demanded that she abandon acting for more princess-like pursuits.
       Dial M for Murder was Hitchcock’s only venture into Natural Vision, which was a two-projector version of 3-D. The studio was pushing for more 3-D films after the success of House of Wax , according to a modern source, and Hitchcock complied, possibly with reluctance. During the thirty-six days of filming, he spent a week on the stabbing scene to get the three-dimensional effect he sought, as filming in stereoscope limited his ability to exploit camera placement and angles. Modern sources state that Hitchcock wanted a close-up of the “M” on the telephone hand dial during the opening credits, but the special 3-D cameras could not focus that closely. By the time of the film’s release, the 3-D fad was nearing its end and a May 1954 Var news item dated two days before the New York opening announced that Warner Bros. had changed their policy previously requiring that first runs be shown in 3-D.
       The film's world premiere was held at the Randolph Theatre in Philadelphia, Kelly's hometown, on 18 May 1954. According to news reports, the premiere featured a 3-D print, which also was shown to general audiences during the day of 19 May, but the theater switched to exhibiting only a flat(2-D) print that evening, and for all subsequent showings. According to modern sources, the Randolph's management requested a 2-D print from Warner Bros. in response to a low turnout and negative audience response to the 3-D print. In New York, Apr 1954 press previews were presented in 3-D, but the NYT review reported that it was shown in 2-Dat the New York premiere.
       Although some modern sources suggest that the film opened on the West Coast at the Egyptian, a Jun 1954 pre-opening news item and the Jun 1954 ad indicate that the Los Angeles opening was held at the Beverly Hills Theatre. A Nov 1979 Var article reported that Warner Bros. and Technicolor restored the 3-D WarnerColor version, which they unveiled at the Tiffany Theatre in West Los Angeles. In April 2013, a newly restored 3-D print was shown at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.
       On 25 Apr 1956, Anthony Dawson and John Williams reprised their film roles and reunited with Broadway cast member Maurice Evans in an NBC-TV Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Dial M for Murder directed by George Schaefer, in which Rosemary Harris played “Margot.” In Nov 1967, Williams played the role again in an ABC-TV broadcast directed by John Moxey, which co-starred Laurence Harvey, Diane Cilento and Hugh O’Brien. In 1981, Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer starred in a television remake, directed by Boris Sagal. Dial M for Murder was also the inspiration for the 1998 Warner Bros. production, A Perfect Murder , which was directed by Andrew Davis and starred Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   1 May 1954.   
Daily Variety   27 Apr 54   p. 3.
Film Daily   27 Apr 54   p. 6.
Hollywood Citizen-News   23 Jun 1954.   
Hollywood Reporter   4 Aug 1953   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Aug 1953   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Sep 1953   p.11.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Jan 1954   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Feb 1954   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Apr 54   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Jun 1954   p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner   4 Feb 1953.   
Los Angeles Times   17 Jun 1954.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   1 May 54   p. 2277.
New York Times   28 May 1954.   
New York Times   29 May 1954   p. 13.
New York Times   13 Jun 1954.   
New Yorker   5 Jun 1954.   
Newsweek   10 May 1954.   
Time   24 May 1954.   
Variety   25 Jun 1952.   
Variety   10 Jun 1953.   
Variety   28 Apr 54   p. 6.
Variety   26 May 1954   p. 1.

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