Leona Stevenson is sick and confined to her bed. One night, whilst waiting for her husband to return home, she picks up the phone and accidentally overhears a conversation between two men planning a murder. She becomes increasingly desperate as she tries to work out who the victim is so the crime can be prevented. Written by
Col Needham <email@example.com>
1948 was a good year for director Anatole Litvak with this film proving a success at the box office. His other film of that year was The Snake Pit (1948), another sizeable hit, that also attracted considerable critical attention (mainly for Olivia de Havilland's performance as a mental patient) as well as seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Director. See more »
Twice Barbara Stanwyck turns on a radio and they instantly begin to play music. Radios of the film's era would have required some time to warm up. See more »
Operator! Operator! Operator!
Voice of Operator:
Your call please?
Operator, I've been ringing Murray Hill 35097 for the last half hour and the line is always busy. Will you ring it for me, please?
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Gimmicky noir still shocks despite its shortcomings
Chrome-plated hokum, Sorry, Wrong Number works despite itself. And works and works. Starting out as a radio drama by Lucille Fletcher in the 1940s, it boasted umpteen performances plus a 1946 production in the nascent medium of television before Anatole Litvak turned it into film noir. During most of its earlier incarnations, Agnes Moorehead created the role of the hysterical, bedridden heiress, the `cough drop queen,' but the film fell into the lap of the First Lady of Film Noir, Barbara Stanwyck. Moorehead was more than a strong enough actress, but Hollywood required a star.
The Irony is that Sorry, Wrong Number is far from her finest hour on screen. Rarely has one been made so aware of Stanwyck `acting' in the most unabashedly actressy way. And the same can be said of Burt Lancaster who, when a role didn't set well with him, communicated his discomfort blatantly. In The Rose Tattoo, against Anna Magnani, he was ingratiating and unconvincing ; here, he's almost as awkward as the henpecked husband in whom the worm has at long last turned.
But maybe Fletcher's slice of devil's food cake calls for mannered histrionics. Ensconced in her bedchamber one sweltering Manhattan evening, her pill bottles and her telephone at her elbow, Stanwyck eavesdrops on a sinister conversation a murder is being plotted thanks to a crossed line. This makes her even more restive, and she starts working the phone, tracking down her tardy husband. Litvak `ventilates' these calls, turning them into a series of flashbacks filling in the background to what will prove a very bad evening for Stanwyck. (The sequences on Staten Island, however, could have sprung from the pen of Franklin W. Dixon, the Hardy Boys' puppeteer.)
Unavoidably talky, owing to its source, Sorry, Wrong Number moves inexorably to its preordained end. Basically, it's a gimmick, and one that Hitchcock might have fine-tuned into a nifty infernal machine. Litvak doesn't do badly, though, and the movie's shock value outlasts its staled conventions. Its most chilling moment comes when Stanwyck frantically dials a number that she thinks will give her solace. But her answer is `BOwery 2-1000 the City Morgue.'
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