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Dial M for Murder (1954) - Plot Summary Poster

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  • In London, wealthy Margot Mary Wendice had a brief love affair with the American writer Mark Halliday while her husband and professional tennis player Tony Wendice was on a tennis tour. Tony quits playing to dedicate to his wife and finds a regular job. She decides to give him a second chance for their marriage. When Mark arrives from America to visit the couple, Margot tells him that she had destroyed all his letters but one that was stolen. Subsequently she was blackmailed, but she had never retrieved the stolen letter. Tony arrives home, claims that he needs to work and asks Margot to go with Mark to the theater. Meanwhile Tony calls Captain Lesgate (aka Charles Alexander Swann who studied with him at college) and blackmails him to murder his wife, so that he can inherit her fortune. But there is no perfect crime, and things do not work as planned.

  • After learning that his wife Margot had a brief affair with mystery writer Mark Halliday, Tony Wendice decides he's going to kill her. He wants to provide himself with an ironclad alibi and so blackmail a one-time schoolmate with a shady past, Charles Swann, to do the killing for him. The plan is simple. He will give Swann a key to their flat and while he and Halliday are out at a dinner, Swan can let himself into the flat and strangle her. It all goes as planned but Margot successfully defends herself, killing Swan in the process. She is convicted of his murder - Tony had planted evidence to suggest that he had been blackmailing her - and soon finds herself in prison awaiting execution on the gallows. It's left to Mark Halliday and a sympathetic policeman, Chief Inspector Hubbard, to uncover Wendice's plan and get the evidence to arrest him.

  • Residing in London, former tennis pro turned sporting goods salesman Tony Wendice and socialite Margot Wendice have a loving, happy marriage,... or so it appears on the surface. In reality, Margot fell out of love with Tony as a traveling tennis wife, and began an affair with American writer Mark Halliday, who she still loves. Margot decided to make a go of the marriage when Tony gave up tennis for a more steady job, but she still kept one keepsake from Mark, a love letter, which she carried with her everywhere in whatever handbag she was using, that is until the letter was stolen from her handbag. An unknown person is blackmailing her with the letter, threatening to expose the affair to Tony, something she has told no one except Mark. The blackmailer, which in reality is not blackmail but part of a larger plot, is Tony himself. When first discovering the affair, Tony had thought about killing Mark. But now, his carefully thought out plan is to have Margot killed so that he can live off her wealth. That plan, which only recently coalesced into a beginning to end detailed plot, involves blackmailing old college associate Charles Swann, who Tony has recently learned has turned to a life of fraud and murder. While Tony is out for the evening with a visiting Mark, Swann will kill Margot at the Wendice apartment. Tony will have an alibi and Swann should be able to get away scot-free as he has no formal ties to the Wendices and thus no motive to kill Margot. Although Tony considers the plan foolproof, it does not come off quite as planned, with Margot surviving the attack. Tony has to decide what to do, if he should just hide his involvement in the murder plot, or if he has a Plan B up his sleeve still to get rid of Margot for good. Who may factor into what happens are Mark, who will do whatever to help Margot, most specifically using his creative writing skills, and the lead police investigator, Chief Inspector Hubbard, who may see the crime scene in a slightly different light than the average Joe.

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  • Ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice decides to murder his wife for her money and because she had an affair the year before. He blackmails an old college associate to strangle her, but when things go wrong he sees a way to turn events to his advantage.

  • Tony Wendice learns that his wife, Margo had an affair but even though it's over, he decided to kill her but chose to bide his time. He waited until Mark Halliday, his wife's boyfriend, returned to town. He then placed his plan in order. He summoned a man, whose reputation is a bit shady, and reveals that he knows his secrets but also tells him about his wife and her boyfriend and that they are each the beneficiary of their estates. He gets the man to agree to kill his wife and he has laid out what appears to be perfect plan. Only thing is the man was the one who was killed. Wendice trying to cover everything up, decides then to make it appear that Margo had an ulterior motive for killing the man. And it appears to be working except Halliday doesn't believe she's guilty and the police uncover a few anomalies.

  • An ex-tennis pro carries out a plot to murder his wife. When things go wrong, he improvises a brilliant plan B.

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Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a former tennis player who married Margot (Grace Kelly) partly for her money. To please his wife, he has given up tennis and now sells sports equipment. Margot once had a relationship with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), an American crime scriptwriter, but broke it off when he went back to the U.S. for a year.

    In time they stopped writing to each other, and when Mark returns to London she tells him that she burned all his letters but one. Margo explains to Mark that the letter was stolen by a blackmailer who demanded £50, so Margot payed by mailing the money to a pawn shop location as intended, but the money was never picked up and the letter was never returned. Mark tells Margo that he wants to tell Tony about them so she can divorce Tony so she and Mark can be together, but Margot refuses out of fear of hurting Tony's feelings.

    It is also revealed that Tony and Margot have made their wills, naming each other as beneficiary with assets and money totaling £90,000. For a year, Tony meticulously plans Margot's murder. She has no idea that Tony knows of her love for Mark. He has gone to great lengths to steal a handbag containing one of Mark's letters, and even assumed the role of the anonymous Brixton-based blackmailer to find out whether she would pay to have it back. (She did, but he asked for only £50 and she did not, of course, get the letter back.) He even watched them having a little farewell party, eating spaghetti with mushrooms in Mark's studio flat in Chelsea.

    Tony slyly withdraws small amounts of money for a year, collecting £1,000 in (used) one-pound (£1) notes, with which he plans to pay a contract killer. He singles out the perfect man to do the job: Charles Alexander "C.A." Swann (Anthony Dawson), who now calls himself "Captain Lesgate", a former acquaintance who has embarked on a life of petty crime since even before leaving Cambridge where he and Tony were both students. By following him and finding out about his past and associations, Tony soon gets enough to blackmail Swann into murdering his wife.

    Tony uses the opportunity of Mark's return to London to carry out his plan. Under a pretext he has to prepare an urgent report for his boss, he has Margot and Mark go to the theatre and, when they are gone, he invites Swann to his flat under another pretext - wanting to buy an expensive car from him. When Swann arrives at 61A Charrington Gardens that night, Tony gets down to business. There is no time to lose, as he has planned the murder for the following night. Trapped in a corner by the revelations of his past crimes and tempted by the money, Swann reluctantly agrees to carry out the murder.

    Tony has invited Mark to join him at a stag party in a nearby hotel; this is how he secures himself an alibi. The idea is that the police should think that a burglar was surprised by Margot, that he panicked, strangled her and left without the loot. He has told Swann that he is going to phone his own flat at exactly 11:00 p.m. so that Margot will come to the living-room to answer the phone, whereupon she will be murdered by Swann. There are only two keys to the Wendices' ground floor apartment. Before leaving for the stag party, Tony steals Margot's key from her handbag and hides it under the stair carpet outside their flat for Swann to use.

    Mark, a writer of crime scenarios, says at one point that, theoretically, he would be able to plan the perfect murder but that it would be impossible to carry out any plan of his because in real life people just do not act according to other people's plans. This is true of Margot, too: Instead of listening to the radio in her bedroom when Tony and Mark are away, she tells her husband of her own plans to go to the cinema that night. Tony has a hard time persuading his wife to instead stay at home and stick into an album some old newspaper clippings of his when he was a tennis star. Margot finally consents and for that reason takes a (seemingly) huge pair of scissors out of her mending basket (which also contains a pair of her stockings). When she has finished the tiresome job she goes to bed, carelessly leaving the scissors lying on the desk next to the phone.

    According to Tony's plan, Swann secretly enters the Wendices' flat shortly before 11 o'clock, hides behind the drawn curtains, a scarf in his hands, and waits for the telephone to ring and for Margot to come out of her bedroom to answer it.

    At the dinner stag party, Tony's plans again nearly go wrong when his wristwatch stops and he has to ask for the time, and when he learns that it is a few minutes past 11:00, he hurriedly leaves the ballroom and to a payphone in the hotel lobby to make the call. Tony just makes the phone call exactly when Swann is considering leaving his flat. As expected, Margot gets up, enters the living room area, and awnsers the phone. When she does, the plan goes terribly wrong: Swann attacks her from behind with Tony all the while listening in to what is going on over the phone. But Margot turns out to be rather strong and eventually stabs Swann in the back with the scissors that are left on the desk. He falls backwards to the floor, right onto the scissors, and is dead at once. In his panic, Tony tells his sobbing wife not to touch or do anything until he has come home, which he hurriedly does.

    Clearly nervous, Tony has to work fast now if he wants to come up with an new plan to kill Margot. He soon realizes he can make it look as if Margot had been blackmailed by Swann, that he came to her flat in person and that she actually let him in with the intention of murdering him (rather than killing him in self-defense). After calling the police and sending Margot back to bed, he plants Mark's letter on Swann (to make it appear that he was the one who sent blackmail letters to Margot), finds the latch key on Swann and puts it back in Margot's handbag, and burns the scarf that Swann used, replacing it with one of Margot's stockings. He hides the twin stocking on the desk, but intentionally "accidentally" uncovers it for the police to find (making it look as though Margot inflicted the bruises by herself). Finally, Tony tells Margot to deny that he told her not to call the police. Although he tells her that it will lessen the police suspicion, it has the opposite effect, making it appear as though she avoided calling the police.

    Eventually, the police establish that Swann came in through the hall door rather than the French windows leading into the garden, as his shoes are not dirty. After an intermission, we are introduced to Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), who questions the Wendices and appears to believe the evidence that Tony planted, eventually becoming highly suspicious of Margot. The movie cuts immediately to the trial scene where she is convicted and sentenced to be hanged, thus accomplishing Tony's plan after all.

    However, there are two things Tony has not reckoned with: (a) that Swann replaced the key under the stair carpet immediately after using it to open the door and, accordingly, the key he takes out of the dead man's pocket is the key to Swann's own flat; and (b) that getting rid of £1,000 in cash (the money he would have paid to Swann, which he does not have to now that he is dead) by making many purchases is a conspicuous thing to do and bound to be investigated by the police (which it is, although Tony is not aware of this).

    Several months later, on the day before Margot's scheduled execution, Mark visits Tony to propose a very unusual thing to him. Rather than seeing his wife hanged, he could come up with a completely new story, confess at the last minute that he hired Swann to kill his wife and save her life by going to prison for some years himself instead. Coincidentally, Mark has come up with exactly what Tony actually did. Mark argues that during Margot's trial, all arguments revolved around three things only: (1) Mark's letter found on Swann; (2) the fact that no key was found on Swann (and that there was no forced entry either); and (3) Margot's stocking. Mark argues that all this could be altered, and that Tony could put all the blame on himself, claiming that it was he who had done all that.

    Then Inspector Hubbard arrives at the flat again, purportedly to ask Tony about the money he has been spending lately. This is when Mark discovers Tony's attaché case filled with the remaining one pound notes and presents it to Hubbard when he inquires to Tony about the suitcase. Pressed for an answer, Tony manages a final impromptu lie in front of both Mark and Inspector Hubbard: he tells them this is the money Margot had ready when she met Swann but that she changed her mind and killed him instead of paying him off. The inspector accepts this explanation and dismisses Mark's theory... or so it seems.

    In fact, the inspector, who has not given up the case yet, remains suspicious of Tony and sets a trap. He borrows the key from Margot's handbag which is kept in prison and goes to Tony's flat while Tony is not home. He finds that it does not fit the lock. He discovers that the key actually fits Swann's door. After some searching, he discovers the actual key under the carpet.

    Then the inspector uses his final trick. He visits Tony to ask some questions and when he leaves, he deliberately takes Tony's raincoat instead of his own. (The raincoats are apparently very similar and so are the keys.) Tony also leaves his flat. Inspector Hubbard secretly enters the flat, using the key from the raincoat, telephones the prison and asks that Margot be released. Margot, who does not understand why she has been released, goes home, and finds that the key in her handbag does not fit the lock. Hubbard waits some time, he wants to find out whether she knows the hiding place under the stair carpet. She does not, so that clears her of any suspicion. The inspector opens the door for her. Hubbard tells a colleague to take the handbag back to the police station. Hubbard and Margot then wait for Tony's homecoming.

    When Tony comes home he realizes that he cannot get inside: he is wearing Hubbard's raincoat with Hubbard's key. Hubbard and Margot, along with Mark, hide themselves inside and do not open the door. Then Tony remembers that he had been told to collect Margot's belongings from the police station, so he goes there to fetch her handbag, with the key. When he comes home he finds that the key from Margot's handbag - actually Swann's - does not fit into the lock. Tony starts thinking what could have happened. When he takes the key from under the stair carpet he gives himself away.

    Tony enters the room to find Margot and the inspector, and Mark too. He realizes he's been found out and congratulates the inspector. After appearing surprised that he has finally been found out, Tony then offers everyone a drink, acting very casual, as tears begin to stream down his wife's face. The last scene is of the inspector, acting in a manner that shows he's proud of himself, as he combs his mustache as he makes a phone call to inform Scotland Yard that they have caught Tony.

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