Perfect Murder, A (1998): Andrew Davis’ Remake of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow

With A Perfect Murder, Andrew Davis, a proficiently commercial if impersonal filmmaker, loosely remade Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller Dial M for Murder, by changing not only the characters names but also major plot points.

Our Grade: B- (** out of *****)

Based on Frederick Knott’s plot, the screenplay, penned by Patrick Smith Kelly, revolves round an intimate triangle, now played by Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen.

Douglas plays Steven Taylor, a Wall Street financier, married to Emily (Platrow). When his personal investments turn too risky, he plans to access Emily’s personal fortune. Meanwhile, Emily is having an affair with a younger handsome painter David Shaw, and is considering leaving Steven.

When Steven, who knows of the affair, and when learns that David is an ex-convict, conning rich women out of their money, he offers David $500,000 to murder Emily. David claims that he and Emily are in love, and Steven reminds him that his next arrest will involve 15 years imprisonment.

Steven hides the door key, from Emily’s keyring, outside the service entrance to their lavish Manhattan condo. He attends his regular card game, during which time Emily usually stays in. David will use the key, kill her, and make it look like a robbery.

Spoiler Alert

Reaching the train’s private compartment, David opens the bathroom door; Steven lunges out and stabs him, taking David’s gun and the money. A dying David reveals that he had mailed a copy of the tape to Emily. Steven rushes home and finds the mail still unopened.

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.

Emily suddenly appears, revealing that she knows everything, having found the tape in the safe while he showered. Steven attacks her and she uses David’s gun to kill him.

When Karaman arrives, Emily plays David’s tape, then explains what happened after she told Steven.

In Hitchcock’s superior Dial M For Murder, Ray Milland and Grace Kelly live in a modest London flat, although it is implied that they are wealthy, as Milland’s Tony Wendice is a retired tennis champion.

Both Kelly and Paltrow’s characters are sexy and striking blondes. Both films make rely on the mystery of key (not found on the dead man when he was killed by the women, as both their husbands had removed them in an attempt to pin the crime on their wives.

In 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. In homage to the original film, Douglas’s character greets Paltrow exactly the same way at the beginning of Perfect Murder.

An alternate ending is presented on the original Blu-ray disc release. Steven comes back from finding the key replaced where he had hidden it and Emily confronts him in the kitchen. The scene plays out with the same dialogue, but Steven never physically attacks her. He 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 to look like self-defense.

Skillfully if mechanically and predictably plotted, A Perfect Murder was sporadically entertaining, but never suspenseful or truly disturbing to qualify as a satisfying thriller.

The film opened the same weekend as The Truman Show, grossing worldwide about $128,000,000.

Michael Douglas as Steven Taylor
Gwyneth Paltrow as Emily Bradford Taylor
Viggo Mortensen as David Shaw
David Suchet as Mohamed Karaman
Sarita Choudhury as Raquel Martinez
Constance Towers as Sandra Bradford
Novella Nelson as Ambassador Alice Wills