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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you are into nail biting suspense in your movies look no further
than SORRY,WRONG NUMBER. An excellently structured climactic noir
thriller made by Paramount Pictures in 1948. Produced by Hal Wallis and
director Anotole Litvak it bears all the hallmarks of what was best in
Hollywood's Golden Age when it came to producing great thrillers. With
its slick and stylish black and white cinematography by legendary Sol
Polito, masterful direction by Litvak it boasted a magnificent central
performance from its star Barbara Stanwyck. Written by Lucille Fletcher
the film is an expanded version of her hugely successful radio play.
And to give it greater depth and density the picture is underlined by a
terrific score by Franz Waxman (Over the titles an ostinato figure in
the horns cleverly simulates the busy signal of a telephone).
Stanwyck is Leona Stevenson the pampered well to do daughter of industrial magnate James Cotterell (the always excellent Ed Begley). She pursues and marries beneath her a lowly drug store assistant Henry Stevenson (a miscast Burt Lancaster) much to the chagrin of her father ("Who is he anyhow? Why he hasn't even got a proper job!). The marriage however is doomed from the very start. Cotterell sets his son-in-law up in an executive position but Henry is unable to take the domineering ways of the spoiled Leona and wants to leave her culminating in his embezzling from the company and the degeneration of Leona into a bedridden neurotic invalid. The film's primary setting then takes place during one night and concentrates on Leona in bed and alone in her big house trying to contact Henry on her bedside phone. Then on a crossed line she suddenly overhears two men plotting a murder that is to happen that night. Frantically she phones the police first, then her father, her doctor (Wendell Corey) and her husband's secretary but either they are not answering and or no one will believe her. It isn't very long before she comes to the conclusion that it is she herself who is the intended victim. The picture ends in a terrifying sequence with the panic stricken Leona hearing a noise downstairs and then just outside her open bedroom door seeing the shadow of someone coming up the stairs. Brrr......
Stanwyck totally dominates the second half of the picture. The great actress has the screen virtually to herself. In stunning medium shots and close-ups her fear and panic is brilliantly portrayed with her every terrible thought etched in her harrowed face. Leona is a pathetic figure unable to summon or persuade someone - anyone - to come quickly to her aid. Few actresses would be as convincing in the role here as Stanwyck and she quite rightly was nominated for an Acadamy Award for her electrifying performance but lost out to Jane Wyman's equally riveting performance for "Johnny Belinda". Maintaining the tension of Fletcher's original radio story the film version, quite naturally, does make a greater impact and has a more palpable dramatic thrust thanks to Stanwyck's exceptional well measured and engaging performance.
So if you are looking for a hyper, climatic edge of the seat thriller then SORRY,WRONG NUMBER will certainly get you to where you want to go.......and how.
An expanded radio play and subsequent TV drama, this film builds
terrific tension around a bedridden heiress and her telephone.
Sympathy builds for this unlikeable woman, Leona, played by Barbara Stanwyck. She is a spoiled heiress used to getting her own way, but as we come to see, very much created by her father (played by Ed Begley) who bows to all her wishes.
Her husband, Henry, played by Burt Lancaster, whom she chases and captures from her best friend, initially goes along with being an employee in her father's corporation but eventually starts chafing at the restraints imposed on him.
The movie just about plays in real time with the addition of many flashbacks, one of which secures the knowledge that there is nothing wrong with Leona, it is all psychosomatic based on her mother's fatal illness.
From the moment Leona accidentally overhears a plotted murder for later on that evening, the viewer is taken on a ride that builds suspense and tension to a terrifying conclusion and the movie's title.
Not to be missed. The cinematography is superb, a lot of play in light and shade. Barbara deserved an Oscar but lost. 8 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Sorry Wrong Number" lacked the humor and humanity of Hitchcock's 'Rear
Window,' but was more relentlessly frightening, and, like "Rear
Window," it exerted its grip because of the helplessness of the
principal character, confined to one room
Barbara Stanwyck played, with terrifying conviction, a wealthy, neurotic, partly paralyzed, bedridden woman, alone at night in her New York home with only the telephone for company because her husband, Burt Lancaster, has given the staff he night off
Calling to see why her husband is not back from his office Stanwyck gets a crossed line and hears two men discussing a murder which one of them has been paid to do that night: paid by a husband who wants to get rid of his rich, neurotic and bedridden wife whose servants have been given the night off..
At first, Stanwyck does not realize that she is to be the victim. Then, as the killing hour approaches, she does realize In mounting panic she starts calling the police, her doctor, anywhere for help...
As the vulnerable woman menaced, Stanwyck won her a fourth Oscar nomination Her bedside telephone has a star role to play...
Lancaster was sufficiently persuasive as the husband, who only can save his own life by getting money for his gambling debts
In New York, the spoiled Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanswick) is the
invalid wife of the VP of a pharmaceutical industry Henry J. Stevenson
(Burt Lancaster)and becomes aware of a murder that would be committed
late night of that day through a "cross-wire", when she overhears two
men planning the murder.
Leona tries to find the right number to tell the police and she discovers that her former friend and ex-girlfriend of Henry, Sally Hunt Lord (Ann Richards), had lunch with him. She recalls the first encounter with her husband and parts of her life with him through flashbacks. Along the night, she learns dirty secrets about Henry and she finds that she might be the intended victim.
"Sorry, Wrong Number" is a great film-noir with a suspenseful story and top-notch performances. The screenplay and the direction are excellent and keep the attention of the viewer until the end of the last scene. This movie deserves to be watched more than once and is highly indicated for fans of film noir. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "A Vida Por Um Fio - O Clássico" ("The Life for One Line - The Classic")
Note: On 29 September 2013, I saw this movie again.
As a child I was riveted by the classic radio play starring Agnes Moorehead, and here playwright Lucille Fletcher gets her chance to expand the relentless tale of what happens to wealthy. spoiled Leona Stevenson one lonely night in the heart of New York City. Harold Vermilyea is Evans, the devoted employee destroyed by her wastrel husband's greed, and Ann Richards is Sally, Leona's loyal (though we wonder why) ex-classmate. These two are the only likeable characters in SWN. Still, as the minutes tick by toward the horrific conclusion, life in the unconcerned city goes on ... roaring subways, loud conversations, and traffic sounds, all accentuating the mounting apprehensions and, eventually, our realization of the immense evil that has found Leona Stevenson.
Anatole Litvak directs the movie version of Lucille Fletcher's radio war-horse Sorry, Wrong Number was gusto and drive. The photograpy is deceptively simple at first blush, but soon evolves, giving each scene an individuality and clarity not unlike deep-focus. There's an overall feeling of gloom in this largely nocturnal movie, which is stylistically a sort of vest-pocket film noir Citizen Kane. Some of the touches border on the surreal, such as Lancaster's (among others) repeated references to his home town of Grassville, which happened at least thirty-six times and grows alternately funnier and more disturbing with each passing mention. The feel of New York in summer has seldom been so well captured in a studio-bound film, as scene upon scene appears to be enveloped in fog or cigarette smoke, and the horns of boats moving down-river or out to sea are often audible, at times suggesting, not wholly inapprpriately, the world of Eugene O'Neill and his theme of universal frustration. For all this, there is little actual movement in the film, which reflects the heroine's bed-ridden state, as scenes are acted out semi-theatrically, with characters talking to one another continuously, and whether wicked or benign seldom communicating clearly, as each little chat leaves someone more in the dark than before. The story moves, one might say, from one misinterpretation to another, until the climax, when all becomes clear, as tragedy trumps melodrama, giving the viewer a much needed jolt of reality.
Lucille Fletcher wrote the original version for the radio. It only
lasted 22 minutes, which then grew to one hour and then to 89 minutes
of playing time in the film version. Since the original work had
everything it needed to create the suspense and paranoia that Leona
Stevenson felt, other situations were added to fit into a motion
Anatole Litvak brought the film into the screen, letting Ms. Fletcher write the screen adaptation. The film relies on the use of flashbacks in order to tell the story, otherwise it would have been impossible to have the original premise play so long on the screen. Supposedly the crime was going to be committed at 11.15PM as the subway train went across the Queensboro bridge.
Barbara Stanwyck, an actress who did great work on films of this genre, was perhaps the wrong choice for Leona Stevenson. As the hysterical woman who discovers an assassination plot when she hears a conversation on the telephone, Ms. Stanwyck was not as effective as in other roles. The pairing of Burt Lancaster with her shows no chemistry between them, even when one realizes why his Henry Stevenson marries Leona. Mr. Lancaster seems awkward in most of his scenes.
The film asks a lot of the viewers in making them believe how Ms. Stanwyck, who was in her forties, is seen as a young college student, always looking like she does as her older self as when we first meet her as the film opens, and she is supposedly, a woman of a certain age!
The film is a "must see" for fans of Ms. Stanwyck, who could have been better, perhaps directed by another director.
When I first started watching this film, I wasn't hooked until well
into the movie. Seeing the bed-ridden Stanwyck's monologue just didn't
hook me--even when she accidentally overheard a plot to kill someone. A
lot of this was because her character wasn't very likable--she was a
very whiny little "princess" who frankly annoyed me! This is why I rate
the movie lower than many on IMDb--I just didn't care much about her
and early on I was hoping that SHE would be the one murdered. However,
as the story unfolded in a series of flashback, the film became less
claustrophobic and very entertaining. None of this really made me hate
Stanwyck's character less, but it did help the audience to understand
her more--as well as her husband (Burt Lancaster). While the story
still was hampered by a long list of unlikable characters (actually, I
never really liked any of them--except maybe Wendell Corey), it did
excel by being super-creative and for ending on a very powerful note.
The film was a lot like the first drop on a roller-coaster--very slow
and uphill until a wonderful conclusion. I'd like to say more, but
don't want to spoil the film.
The movie had generally good and very creative writing, good direction and excellent acting. It certainly WAS creative, but allowing Stanwyck to be more three-dimensional would have improved the film greatly.
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
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.'
Barbara Stanwyck (as Leona Stevenson) is a neurotic woman, confined to
her bed. She is married to the very attractive, and mysterious, young
Burt Lancaster (as Henry Stevenson). Ms. Stanwyck relies on a
state-of-the-art 1940s corded telephone to help communicate her needs.
One evening, she picks up her phone and overhears two men plotting a
murder; eventually, the crime moves too close to Stanwyck for comfort
Stanwyck is excellent as the spoiled, arrogant, and wealthy, but, ultimately, helpless heroine of Lucille Fletcher's adapted radio play (the part was originated on radio by Agnes Moorehead). The story picks up some flaws in its extension into a feature film; it is most frustrating as (flashbacks) ((within flashbacks)) (((within flashbacks))) occur; and, the story becomes a little confusing. Still, Stanwyck's fine performance carries the film to an exciting, tense, conclusion.
******** Sorry, Wrong Number (9/1/48) Anatole Litvak ~ Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey
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