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Sorry Wrong Number (1948) – full review!

Sorry Wrong Number (1948) – full review!

Following 5 years after the highly successful radio program (of the same name) which starred Agnes Moorehead this thriller features Barbara Stanwyck giving her last of four unrewarded Best Actress Oscar nominated performances as an invalid wealthy woman whose only contact with the outside world and that which threatens her one evening is a telephone. Anatole Litvak co-produced and directed Lucille Fletcher’s play which she extended significantly with her screenplay. The film also stars Burt Lancaster looking rather young in his sixth film (two years after his screen debut in The Killers (1946)) Ann Richards Wendell Corey Ed Begley Leif Erickson and William Conrad (among others).

The story opens with Leona Stevenson (Stanwyck) trying to reach her inexplicably absent husband Henry (Lancaster) on the telephone. Through various circumstances and events she’s pretty much confined to her bedroom ostensibly her bed with no one else home to assist her. Back in the days when operators set-up calls manually she’s accidentally connected to a man’s voice she doesn’t recognize who’s speaking about murdering a woman at 11:15 that evening. After reporting the incident to a distracted police sergeant (Cliff Clark uncredited) and then speaking with her father James Cotterell (Begley) her husband’s secretary (Dorothy Neumann) and an old acquaintance & rival Sally (Richards) all by telephone she learns that she is the intended victim of the crime!

Each of these subsequent telephone calls plus one with her doctor and a man named Waldo Evans (Harold Vermilyea) leads to a flashback sequence making this an extraordinarily nonlinear film during which a piece of the plot’s puzzle is put into place. Leona was a debutante whose father owned a large drug company bearing his name such that she’d learned she could have anything she wanted. While at Harvard she meets Henry at a dance and “steals” him away from Sally. Henry like her father doesn’t even have a high school education but she’s drawn to him (physically) and must have him as her husband. Henry instantly becomes a VP in Daddy’s company with little or no responsibility and learns to hate it. Desperate to make his own way he tries to get another job but finds that his father-in-law owns the town in which they live such that he can’t make a career move without Cotterell knowing it. In the process he’d upset his wife so much that her health begins to decline. Now instead of them living at home with Daddy the Stevensons live in a multi-level flat nearer to Dr. Alexander (Corey) who’s treating Leona for her “illness” which has manifested itself as a weak heart.

Sally is now married to a lawyer Fred Lord (Erickson) who’s investigating Henry’s suspicious activities with Evans who’s a Cotterell chemist and a “mob” hood named Morano (Conrad). Though it was originally just a “woman in peril” radio program it was made into a much more complex (though not convoluted) yet compelling drama. Stanwyck plays her role like no one else could – her character is shown to have been a confident woman who learned that she could always get her way (e.g. with her father and their money) that’s transformed into an increasingly weaker person who shrieks helplessly while she loses control of her husband and mobility. The ending is classic; the movie’s title is the last spoken line.

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