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On a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles via Iowa, lawyer David Trask gets to know three of his fellow passengers as one technical issue after another leads to delays and unscheduled stops along the way. Those three are physician Dr. Robert Fortness, struggling actress with the stage name Binky Gay, and loud salesman Eddie Hoke, who is both quick with a joke and quick to show off a photograph of his beautiful wife, Marie Hoke. Below the surface, the three have deeper stories, which are bringing them back to Los Angeles and which Dr. Fortness and Binky divulge to David. Dr. Fortness, an alcoholic, is returning to own up to his drunken part in the death of a friend, and his wife Claire's complicity in the matter. Binky, after being away in New York for a year, is returning to her husband, Mike Carr, hoping to take him away from his overbearing mother, former vaudeville star Sally Carr, who still basks in her former but no longer shining glory, and who is the cause of any marital problem ... Written by
Flashbacks get heavy duty in Phone Call from a Stranger...
Fairly interesting story of stranded passengers on an airliner recalling incidents from their past as they await connection to another plane. Nicely directed by Jean Negulesco, it's only problem is the uneven pace of the stories which are blended together rather smoothly.
Foremost among the passengers are MICHAEL RENNIE, GARY MERRILL, SHELLEY WINTERS and KEENYN WYNN (in one of his most obnoxious roles). Rennie recalls his unhappy marriage involving an auto accident he was responsible for while drinking--in which he lied about not having been behind the wheel. Wynn is a clownish fool who shows everyone a photo of his attractive wife in a bathing suit pose (BETTE DAVIS, whose later appearance in the film is after an accident has made her a cripple). Merrill is a seasoned traveler who calms the frazzled nerves of stripper Winters when the plane goes through storm turbulence.
Shelley gives her usual breezy and brash performance; Merrill is low-key and charming as a lawyer who doesn't drink too much; and Rennie is interesting in a key role.
The story gains interest after the plane crash when Merrill takes it upon himself to visit the victims' families, the most poignant part of the story involving his confrontation with BETTE DAVIS who is no longer the image of the glamor photo Wynn showed to the other passengers.
Told in typical '40s style with flashbacks serving as background filler, it holds the interest thanks to the excellent performances of a fine cast. BETTE DAVIS makes the most of small but interesting character role and BEATRICE STRAIGHT is touching as Michael Rennie's loyal wife. The EVELYN VARDEN/CRAIG STEVENS flashback with Varden painting herself as a saintly mother-in-law of Shelley Winters is a howl.
Major fault: the story seems too contrived and Merrill's motivations for seeing and getting involved with the families is a bit hard to swallow.
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