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Millionaire industrialist Steven Taylor is a man who has everything but what he craves most: the love and fidelity of his wife. A hugely successful player in the New York financial world, he considers her to be his most treasured acquisition. But she needs more than simply the role of dazzling accessory. Brilliant in her own right, she works at the U.N. and is involved with a struggling artist who fulfills her emotional needs. When her husband discovers her indiscretion, he sets out to commit the perfect murder and inherit her considerable trust fund in the bargain. Written by
[ dark angel grace ]
Starts promisingly...falls apart in the final third
It may be more credible to cite Psycho or Vertigo as your favourite Hitchcock, but my particular preference has always been Dial M for Murder. Sure, it's dated far more than a lot of Hitch's films, but it's still a tightly written and intelligent movie; Ray Milland playing a gentlemanly yet murderous businessman who plots to have his wife killed when he discovers she's having an affair and plans to leave him.
A Perfect Murder, the 1998 remake, is a very different beast with different motivations and some major changes to how the plot plays out. This time, it's Michael Douglas whose wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is playing away from home but, in a move from the source material, it's her ex-con lover who is hired to do the murder.
Despite this deviation, the machinations of the murder plot from the original film are near-identical. A phone call home, a missing key, the supposed disturbed robbery, the would-be killer killed in self-defence...that's all Dial M. And, because of this, the first third of the film bounces along at a great pace.
Into Act 2 and things are still promising with the introduction of David Suchet as the investigating detective. Suchet is a wonderful actor and his first scene holds much potential and evokes memories of John Williams's memorable turn as Detective Hubbard in Dial M. Suchet's Detective Karaman seems smart as a tack and asks awkward questions of our protagonists. And then, inexplicably, the character all but vanishes from the movie without doing any further detecting. In fact, the big reveal of the murder is actually just down to the wife simply snooping through her husband's clumsily-hidden evidence, rather than anyone actually pursuing a line of enquiry.
As a result, the final third is really just our three main characters lying and and cheating. While it's fun to watch Douglas worm his way out of things by repeatedly changing his story, it all leads to a frankly barmy climax where the bodies start to pile up.
I guess A Perfect Murder is more interested in its characters than the tightly woven plot of Dial M, but the original film had charm that this sorely lacks. While Dial M may not seem realistic in its characters' motivations or the generally breezy tone, it's by far the better movie.
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