A Perfect Murder

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A Perfect Murder
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Andrew Davis
Written byPatrick Smith Kelly
Based onDial M for Murder
by Frederick Knott
Produced by Arnold Kopelson
Anne Kopelson
Peter Macgregor-Scott
Christopher Mankiewicz
Cinematography Dariusz Wolski
Edited by Dov Hoenig
Dennis Virkler
Music by James Newton Howard
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • June 5, 1998 (1998-06-05)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$60 million
Box office$128 million

A Perfect Murder is a 1998 American crime thriller film directed by Andrew Davis and starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen. It is a 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. [1]



Steven Taylor is a Wall Street financier married to Emily, a much younger (over 20 years) translator for the United Nations. When his risky personal investments start unraveling, he intends to access Emily's personal fortune of $100 million to cover his losses. Meanwhile, Emily enjoys an affair with painter David Shaw and is considering leaving Steven. Steven meets David at a gala, and asks to visit David's studio in Brooklyn.

Steven arrives at David's studio the next day. He reveals that he knows about the affair, and used his influence to investigate David's criminal past as an ex-convict who cons rich women out of their money. Steven offers David $500,000 to murder Emily. When David responds that he and Emily are in love, Steven reminds him his next arrest will mean 15 years imprisonment.

Steven hides the door key from Emily's keyring outside the service entrance to their lavish Manhattan co-op apartment. David is to use the key, kill her, and make it look like a robbery. At his card game, Steven takes a break and uses his cellphone to make a call to an automated bank system, adding to his alibi, while using a second phone to call Emily. Emily answers in the kitchen and is attacked by a masked assailant, but stabs him in the neck with a meat thermometer.

Steven returns expecting Emily to be dead, but finds the assailant's body. He takes the key from the body and puts it back on Emily's keychain. Police arrive, led by Detective Karaman. They remove the assailant's mask and Karaman notices that Steven is surprised the body is not David's. Outside, David watches the body being removed from the building in a black bag and assumes it to be Emily.

Steven takes Emily to stay at her mother's. A sobbing David receives a call from Emily telling him she is fine, and will be back soon. Steven calls David afterwards and organizes a meet on a ferry. Emily visits her coworker, Raquel, and tells her she has decided to leave Steven.

Emily uses her connections to speak to a bank executive, learning of Steven's financial troubles. She then informs Karaman, who says that Steven's alibi is solid, though there is the minor concern that the dead assailant did not have keys of any kind on his body. Still losing money, Steven receives a call from David, who plays an audio tape of the two discussing the plan to kill Emily and demands the full $500,000 or he will turn Steven in.

Emily returns to her apartment for the first time, but her key does not work. This spurs her to go to the apartment of the assailant, discovering that her key unlocks his door. Emily confronts Steven with this and his financial problems. Steven responds with David's sordid past and accuses him of being a blackmailer conning her and threatening him. When he saw the dead body in their kitchen, he assumed it was David and took the key from his pocket so as not to implicate Emily. Steven goes to David's loft with the cash, but finds a note directing him to a park. David's phone rings, and Steven answers it is a ticketing agent, confirming David's train to Montreal. Steven meets David in a park and swaps the money for the audio tape.

Reaching the private compartment on the train, David opens the bathroom door; Steven lunges out and stabs him, taking David's gun and the money. A dying David laughs, revealing he mailed a copy of the tape to Emily via courier service. Steven rushes home and finds the mail still unopened. He hides the money, gun, and audio tape in his safe before Emily enters the room.

Steven showers then dresses for dinner, but Emily suggests they stay in instead. As she heads out to pick up food, she mentions that they should have the locks changed since her key is missing. Steven checks the service entrance, finds the key he hid for David, and realizes that the attacker had put it back after unlocking the door. Emily suddenly appears, revealing that she knows everything now, having found the tape in the safe while he showered. When she turns to leave, Steven attacks her. A brief fight ensues, ending when Emily uses David's gun (from the safe) to kill Steven.

Karaman and his officers arrive. Emily plays David's tape, then explains what happened after she told Steven, to which Karaman replies: "What else could you do?"


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. 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. Toward the beginning of Dial M For Murder, when Kelly and 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.

Throughout the film, Emily carries an Hermès Kelly bag, named after Grace Kelly who was often photographed carrying the model of purse.

The title A Perfect Murder matches the translation that was made in some countries of 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.


Principal photography began on October 14, 1997. Filming took place in & around New York City. The location of Steven & Emily's apartment was filmed at The Convent of The Sacred Heart building in Manhattan. The Bradford Mansion was filmed at the Salutation House in Long Island. Filming ended on January 13, 1998.

Alternate ending

An alternate ending exists and is presented, with optional commentary, on the original Blu-ray disc release. [2] [3] 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. Steven then says "You won't get away with this" before dying and Emily purposely injures herself, making it look like self-defense.


Box office

A Perfect Murder opened in second place at the box office behind The Truman Show , grossing $16,615,704 during its first weekend. It ended up with a total worldwide gross of $128,038,368. [4]

Critical response

A Perfect Murder received mixed reviews from critics: Stephen Holden of The New York Times called it a "skillfully plotted update of Frederick Knott's play". [5] Owen Glelberman of Entertainment Weekly commented, " I’ve seen far worse thrillers than “A Perfect Murder,” but the movie is finally more competent than it is pleasurable. All that lingers from it is the color of money." [6] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post noted, "The trouble is, we don't really much care about this philandering billionaire glamour puss, who seems perfectly capable of taking care of herself. We don't care about her husband or lover either. The story's most compelling character, an Arab American detective (the superb British actor David Suchet), becomes a minor player here. Nevertheless, like John Williams in the Hitchcock film, Suchet commits the film's only believable crime: He steals the show." [7] Paul Clinton of CNN observed, "This production is stylishly mounted... Douglas is an excellent actor and a gifted producer. However, he should hang up his spurs when it comes to playing a romantic lead with women in their twenties." [8] Roger Ebert, who gave the film 3 stars out of 4, wrote "[It] works like a nasty little machine to keep us involved and disturbed; my attention never strayed". [9] 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." [10] A Perfect Murder holds a 57% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 53 reviews. The site's consensus states: "A slick little thriller that relies a bit too much on surprise events to generate suspense." [11] It has a score of 50/100, based on 22 reviews ("mixed or average reviews") from Metacritic. [12]

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  1. Patrick-Smith-Kelly Archived 2013-06-03 at the Wayback Machine at you-tab.com, accessed 21 May 2012
  2. Douglas, Clark (July 30, 2012). "A Perfect Murder (Blu-ray)". DVD Verdict . dvdverdict.com. Archived from the original on 27 November 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  3. "A Perfect Murder [Blu-ray]". Amazon.ca . amazon.ca. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  4. A Perfect Murder at Box Office Mojo
  5. Holden, Stephen (5 June 1998). "Film Review - A Perfect Murder". New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  6. Glelberman, Owen (5 June 1998). "A Perfect Murder". Entertainment Weekly . Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  7. Kempley, Rita (5 June 1998). "'A Perfect Murder': Dial M for Mediocre". The Washington Post . Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  8. Clinton, Paul (4 June 1998). "CNN - Review: 'A Perfect Murder' full of flaws - June 4, 1998". CNN . Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  9. "Roger Ebert Reviews - A Perfect Murder". SunTimes.com.
  10. "James Berardinelli Reviews - A Perfect Murder". ReelViews.net.
  11. "A Perfect Murder". Rotten Tomatoes.
  12. "Film Review - A Perfect Murder". Metacritic.