© 1948 Hal Wallis Productions

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

After seeing Barbara Stanwyck in Meet John Doe a while back and in The Miracle Woman yesterday, I was eager to see more of her.

In Sorry, Wrong Number, Stanwyck is again in a film noir, the genre that she was best suited for. The basic premise of the story has an enormous amount of dramatic potential. Stanwyck plays spoiled, bed-ridden heiress who is at home alone when she tries to call a friend and a crossed connection allows her to hear a conversation between two men who are finalizing their plans to murder an unnamed woman that very night at 11:15, timed so that a passing train will drown out the sound of any screaming. Unable to get out of bed, she uses the only tool at her disposal—the telephone—in an attempt to prevent the murder, even though she does not know who the intended victim is. This was probably pretty suspenseful in 1948, but to a modern viewer who has been exposed to countless so-called “surprise endings,” it is not too hard to guess who the victim will be.

The scenes of Stanwyck in her bed form what is just a framing device for a long series of flashbacks that are related by the people she manages to get on the phone. She gradually learns that her husband (Burt Lancaster), who has married her for her money, is mixed up with some gangsters.  Stanwyck’s performance is fine, and she manages to express escalating fear with only her voice and facial expressions. The problem is the various flashbacks move here and there so erratically, the Stanwyck’s character in her bedroom is often neglected and there is no buildup of suspense where it is needed. There are, however, great moments, thanks largely to Stanwyck and cinematographer Sol Polito.

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