Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Sorry, Wrong Number

Cinema Monolith: 10/10 This film is part of the Cinema Monolith collection!
IMDb: 7.4/10
The Motion Pictures: 5/5

Released on September 1, 1948
Not rated
89 minutes

Directed by Anatole Litvak

Written by Lucille Fletcher, based on her radio play

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey, Ed Begley, Harold Vermilyea, Leif Erickson, William Conrad, John Bromfield, Cliff Clark, Jimmy Hunt, Joyce Compton

A fantastic film noir offering, based on Lucille Fletcher’s famous radio play: Barbara Stanwyck is a bedridden invalid—a nervous wreck of a hypochondriac—who overhears a discussion between two men when the lines on her telephone get crossed, and is shocked to learn that they’re planning to murder someone later that night.

The film is told almost entirely in flashback (and sometimes flashback upon flashback), from Stanwyck’s point of view as she makes repeated phone calls to the police and various acquaintances, at first trying to get someone to help stop the murder, then trying to track down her husband, played by Burt Lancaster, whose whereabouts are unknown.

The mystery here unwinds slowly, and for a while you have no idea what’s going on, but soon the pieces begin to mesh for Stanwyck and the viewer, and you become involved in the phone conversations and unraveling storyline just as much as she does. You can’t help but already know where this is all going to end, but the question that makes it all worth sitting through is, what path will get you there, and why?

Anatole Litvak, directing the last of a handful of career noirs, really poured on the noir ingredients here, filling the screen with an atmosphere of darkness and shadows and rain, taking full advantage of a story ripe with greed, blackmail, and paranoia, and using slow tracking shots and mise-en-scéne to administer both tension and fear.

And Fletcher really had a good sense of how to write a suspenseful, well-constructed, and realistic noir screenplay—especially for someone who wrote only this one screen story over a 50-year writing career—and she kept the plot compelling and the themes deliciously dark from beginning to end.

An end, I might add, that was not only wickedly presented, but bone-chilling as well; suddenly, everything you’d seen and learned throughout the film fell frighteningly into place, with a coda that was pure noir perfection. And even without a tough-guy hero or a femme fatale, or one moment of gunplay, it was still a solid film noir all the way.  (10/10)

Sorry, Wrong Number - photo final normal

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4 comments on “Sorry, Wrong Number

  1. butterboy44
    1/14/13

    Good review! The only comment I’ll make though is about the movie poster. Lancaster is posed like an emotionless mannequin. You can imagine his lifeless, chilling, deadpan dialogue just at this moment…

    “Give me… the God damn phone… you lazy… melodramatic… bitch.”

  2. Todd Benefiel
    1/14/13

    Thanks, Gooser! But if you’re a fan of film noir, you’ll immediately notice that the one great thing about the poster is the fact that the emotionless Lancaster is about to deliver a classic back-handed noir slap to the cheek of a too-stunned-to-move Stanwyck.

    “Give me…(SLAP!)…the God damn phone…(SLAP!)…you lazy…(SLAP!)…melodramatic…(BACKHAND SLAP PLUS REGULAR SLAP!)…bitch!”

  3. Lindsey
    1/15/13

    This was one of the first films I reviewed for my blog. I gave it 5/5 and it remains one of my favorite Stanwyck films! Jane Wyman’s Oscar for Johnny Belinda (another favorite film of mine) that year was certainly well deserved, but Stanwyck in this film was a close second in my book. She adds so much to the film’s mood with her portrayal of Leona’s frantic attitude. Great review!

  4. Todd Benefiel
    1/15/13

    Thanks for the nice comment, Lindsey! I’m glad you also gave it a 5/5…I saw a few negative reviews for this film scattered across the Internet last night, and couldn’t believe what I was reading. I wondered if these reviewers had seen the same film that I had. A great story, great noir elements, and of course Ms. Stanwyck, who made Leona such an absolute snot. I’d read somewhere that she was really a neat person on the set…always friendly to everyone, both cast and crew. And I’ve never seen Johnny Belinda, so I’ll check that out soon!

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