A Perfect Murder
|A Perfect Murder|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Andrew Davis|
|Produced by||Arnold Kopelson
|Written by||Patrick Smith Kelly|
|Based on||Dial M for Murder
by Frederick Knott
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||Dov Hoenig
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||108 minutes|
A Perfect Murder is a 1998 American thriller film directed by Andrew Davis and starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen. It is a modern remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film Dial M for Murder, though the characters' names are all changed, and over half the plot is completely rewritten and altered. Loosely based on the play by Frederick Knott, the screenplay was written by Patrick Smith Kelly.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2014)|
Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas) is a Wall Street hedge fund manager whose investments and speculations allow him to live an extravagant upper class lifestyle with his much younger wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow). Unfortunately for Taylor, his illegal investments are unraveling; to alleviate the pressure being put on him by large upcoming margin payments he will need his wife's personal fortune (roughly 100 million dollars) to maintain that status and lifestyle.
Emily seems a faithful wife, but in reality she is having an affair with a painter, David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen), and is considering leaving her husband. Emily thinks she is safe, but Steven knows everything about the affair. He has also been able to uncover David’s past as an ex-convict whose real name is Winston Lagrange and who has a history of conning rich women out of their money.
Steven goes to David's loft, where Emily has accidentally left her wedding ring. Once there he confronts the con man and reveals his knowledge of David's past. Steven then makes him an offer of $500,000 cash to murder his wife. At first David wants nothing to do with the plan, claiming instead that Emily and he are in love. David asks what is to stop him from going straight to Emily or to the police with this information. Steven replies that it would be his word against David's, and that he knows of a previous crime David committed in Boca Raton, Florida, taking off with a lady's bearer bonds. Steven has an acquaintance who has a photograph of the suspect and all they would need is David's real name. Steven then reminds David that he already has two strikes against him, and this third arrest would be enough to send him to prison for fifteen years without parole. Steven instructs David to come by his apartment at around 12 o' clock the following day.
Steven has already laid out a detailed plan which will supply him with a firm alibi. He will hide Emily's latchkey outside the service entrance to his apartment. Steven will then go out for his regular card game, during which time his wife usually stays in and takes a bath. David is to sneak in and at 10 pm, when Steven phones Emily, kill her and make it look like a robbery.
The following evening, when Emily arrives home, Steven removes the key from her keychain and hides it as planned. She has decided to tell Steven about her affair and asks him to stay home to talk; he refuses however and then leaves.
At 10 o'clock that night Steven takes a break from his card game and uses his cellphone to make a call to an automated bank number while using a second phone to call his house. Emily leaves her bath to answer the phone but is attacked in the kitchen by a masked assailant; during their struggle she manages to kill the attacker by stabbing him in the neck with a meat thermometer.
Steven returns and is shocked to find his wife alive and the hired killer dead. Before the police arrive he takes the key from the killer's pocket and puts it back on Emily's keychain. Police arrive, led by Detective Karaman (David Suchet), who asks the couple questions about the night's events. When they remove the assailant's mask it is not David but someone he hired to do the job.
Steven takes Emily to her mother's house, from where Emily attempts to call David to let him know that she is all right. David, who was under the impression that she was dead, and drunk, does not answer in time. Steven has noticed Emily making a call so he uses the redial button; David picks up and he and Steven arrange a meeting. They meet on a ferry boat, recap what happened and decide to wait until Steven has another plan.
Emily tells her mother that she is planning to leave Steven. When she returns home, Emily lets her husband know she will be staying with her friend Raquel. She learns of Steven's serious financial trouble and Raquel questions her about the inheritance he would receive if she died. Emily tells the detective about this development, acknowledging that Steven might have a motive in her attack.
David has made a tape of Steven detailing the whole plan and demands the money promised earlier for her murder. Emily meanwhile has noticed that the key on her keychain does not belong to their home; suspecting something she goes to the apartment of the dead assailant, having previously remembered the address from his file shown to her by the police detective. Once there, she discovers that her key unlocks his door.
Emily confronts her husband with this and the knowledge of his financial problems. To her amazement he exposes David's sordid past and accuses him of being a blackmailer who has been conning her and threatening him for some time. When he saw the attacker's dead body in their kitchen he assumed it was David and took the key from his pocket so as not to implicate Emily in any way.
Steven goes to David's loft to pay him but finds a note directing him to meet in a public place. The phone rings and Steven picks up thinking it's David, but it's a ticketing agent confirming David's train out of the city. Steven meets David in a park and hands over the money; David gives him a copy of the tape and then leaves to board a train to Montreal. Once on the train and assuming he is safe he opens the bathroom door in his cabin; Steven lunges out and stabs him. A dying David claims to have the last laugh because he sent another copy of the tape to Emily. Steven rushes home to try to get the tape before she can. At the apartment, he finds the mail still unopened while Emily is on the terrace. He hides the money and tape in his safe before Emily enters the room.
Thinking he is safe, Steven takes a shower, but Emily sees the empty bag that contained the money. She manages to open the safe, finds the tape and listens to it. Steven returns and she reminds him that she still has not found her key.
Emily pretends to leave to pick up food for dinner. Steven goes to the service entrance where he originally left the key for David to find. He finds it, and realizes that the killer had put the key back after using it to unlock the door. Emily confronts him, revealing that she knows everything now. Steven attacks her, but she has a gun and kills him. In the final scene, the police investigate the scene as Karaman and Emily listen to the tape, and Emily then confesses what happened. Karaman shows gratitude and says "May God be with you" in Arabic. Emily responds "And you as well".
An alternative ending exists and is presented (with optional commentary) on the DVD. In this version, Steven comes back from finding the key replaced where he had hidden it and Emily confronts him in the kitchen rather than in their foyer. The scene plays out with the same dialogue, but Steven never physically attacks her. He still tells her that the only way she'll leave him is dead, and she shoots him. But this time Steven says "You won't get away with this" before dying and Emily purposely injures herself, making it look like self-defense.
- Michael Douglas as Steven Taylor
- Gwyneth Paltrow as Emily Taylor (née Bradford)
- Viggo Mortensen as David Shaw
- David Suchet as Mohamed Karaman
- Sarita Choudhury as Raquel Martinez
- Michael P. Moran as Bobby Fain
- Novella Nelson as Ambassador Alice Wills
- Constance Towers as Sandra Bradford
- David Eigenberg as Stein
- Will Lyman as Jason Gates
- Maeve McGuire as Ann Gates
- Stephen Singer as Effete Man at Met
- Laurinda Barrett as Met Woman #1
- Aideen O'Kelly as Met Woman #2
- Reed Birney as Merchant Prince #1
- Robert Vincent Smith as Merchant Prince #2
Comparisons to the original film
In Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder, the characters played by Ray Milland and Grace Kelly are depicted as living in a modest London flat, although it is implied that they are quite wealthy, as Milland's character, Tony Wendice, is a retired tennis champion. Similarly, Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow's characters are also shown as an extremely wealthy couple. Both Kelly and Paltrow's characters are shown as striking blondes. Both films make use of the mystery of the fact that no key was found on the dead man when he was killed by both Kelly and Paltrow's characters, as both their husbands had removed them, in an attempt to pin the crime on their wives. Towards the beginning of Dial M For Murder, when Kelly and her lover's character, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), are shown together in the Wendice flat, and Milland comes home, Kelly greets him with "There you are!" and kisses him. Presumably in homage to the original film, Douglas's character greets Paltrow exactly the same way when she arrives home to their apartment at the beginning of A Perfect Murder. The title 'A Perfect Murder' matches the translation that was made in some countries of the Hitchcock's film, known in Italian as 'Il delitto perfetto' and in Spanish as 'Crimen perfecto'; in French it was 'Le crime était presque parfait'.
The film received mixed reviews from critics: Stephen Holden of The New York Times called it a "skillfully plotted update of Frederick Knott's play". Roger Ebert wrote "[It] works like a nasty little machine to keep us involved and disturbed; my attention never strayed". Meanwhile, James Berardinelli wrote that the film "has inexplicably managed to eliminate almost everything that was worthwhile about Dial M for Murder, leaving behind the nearly-unwatchable wreckage of a would-be '90s thriller." A Perfect Murder holds a 55% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 50/100 ("mixed or average reviews") from Metacritic.
- Patrick-Smith-Kelly at you-tab.com, accessed 21 May 2012
- A Perfect Murder at Box Office Mojo
- A Perfect Murder at the Internet Movie Database
- A Perfect Murder at AllMovie
- A Perfect Murder at the TCM Movie Database
- A Perfect Murder at Box Office Mojo
- A Perfect Murder at Rotten Tomatoes