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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 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.[1]

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



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, his risky investments are unraveling; to alleviate the financial pressure and to maintain his status, Steven will need his wife's personal fortune, roughly $100 million. However, Emily is having an affair with a painter, David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen), and is considering leaving her husband.

Steven not only knows about the affair; he has also uncovered David's dirty past as an ex-convict having a long history of conning rich women out of their money. Steven meets with David to reveal his knowledge of David's true identity and then makes him an offer of $500,000 in cash to murder his wife. At first David wants nothing to do with the plan, claiming instead that Emily and he are in love. Steven then reminds David that he already has two strikes against him and that the third arrest would be enough to send him to prison for 15 years without parole.

Steven has already laid out a detailed plan to supply him with a firm alibi. He will hide Emily's latch key 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 has to sneak in and kill her, making it look like a robbery.

The following evening, when Emily arrives home, Steven removes the key from her keychain, hides it as planned, and then leaves. 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; Steven listens as she is attacked. However, during their struggle she manages to kill the attacker by stabbing him in the neck with a meat thermometer.

Later Steven returns expecting Emily to be dead but instead finds the hired killer dead in the kitchen. He quickly takes the key from the killer's pocket and puts it back on Emily's keychain. Police arrive, led by Detective Karaman (David Suchet). They remove the assailant's mask and the detective notices that Steven is surprised. That is because he sees that it is not David dead on the floor. Steven takes Emily to her mother's house, from where she attempts to call David (who watched a body being carried out the night of the murder and assumed it was her). Steven notices the phone line in Emily's room being used and presses redial once Emily is asleep to find she has called David. Later, David calls Steven and plays an audio tape of him on the day of the attempted murder and demands the remaining money promised.

Weeping, Emily tells her mother she has no intention of going home with Steven since she has decided to leave him. Later she goes to her best friend Raquel's house and over coffee they discuss reasons Steven would have to kill her. Racquel said that money was the first, but that given her financial status that Emily must have insisted on a prenuptial agreement. She then reveals that Steven had offered but she turned him down so if she died, he'd inherit around $100 million. Shortly after, Emily uses her connections to speak to someone in the financial district where she learns of Steven's serious financial troubles. She then visits the detective where he says that he's gone over her case many times and only one thing concerns him: that the dead assailant didn't have a key.

Emily goes to their home in Manhattan and attempts to enter the front door, but her key doesn't work. She goes down to the doorman and asks if Steven had the locks changed; he says no. This spurs her to go to the apartment of the dead assailant to discover 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 conning her and threatening him. 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 the bank to get the money, using a bag containing a shoe box to conceal it. He goes to David's loft 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 country. 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, taking David's gun and the money back in the process. A dying David has 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 his problems are over Steven takes a shower, but Emily sees the now disheveled bag that Steven was carrying before, alerting her to an issue. Steven exits the bathroom dressed for dinner and Emily suggest they stay in instead. She then suggest they have the locks changed since 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. 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, having found the tape in the safe since the combination is their anniversary. Steven tells her his intentions of them working things out, but Emily says it's over and attempts to leave. Steven then attacks her and in the struggle she uses David's gun to kill him. The police arrive and she plays David's tape. She relays what happened after she told her husband that she knew what he had done and the Detective states she had no choice.


Comparisons to the original filmEdit

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.

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 the city of New York. 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 endingEdit

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 officeEdit

The film 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 responseEdit

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".[5] Roger Ebert wrote "[It] works like a nasty little machine to keep us involved and disturbed; my attention never strayed".[6] 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."[7] A Perfect Murder holds a 55% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes[8] and a score of 50/100 ("mixed or average reviews") from Metacritic.[9]


  1. ^ Patrick-Smith-Kelly at, accessed 21 May 2012
  2. ^ Douglas, Clark (July 30, 2012). "A Perfect Murder (Blu-ray)". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on 27 November 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  3. ^ "A Perfect Murder [Blu-ray]". 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. ^ "Roger Ebert Reviews - A Perfect Murder".
  7. ^ "James Berardinelli Reviews - A Perfect Murder".
  8. ^ "A Perfect Murder". Rotten Tomatoes.
  9. ^ "Film Review - A Perfect Murder". Metacritic.

External linksEdit