Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Sorry, Wrong Numbersorry wrong number poster
Directed by Anatole Litvak
Written by Lucille Fletcher
Hal Wallis Productions

Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant Video


Henry Stevenson: Besides, what does a dame like you want with a guy like me?

It is mighty tricky to build a movie around telephone conversations.

The wealthy Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck) is a professional invalid, lounging in bed all day with her books and bonbons.  She goes into hysterics and has chest pain when her formidable will is challenged in any way and rules her husband Henry (Burt Lancaster) with an iron hand.

On this particular evening (the story plays out in real time, with flashbacks), her attendants have the night off, on the agreement that Henry will be home at 6 p.m.  He is late, however, and Leona incessantly calls his office number but it is always busy.  She asks an operator to put the call through and overhears two hired killers discussing a murder to take place that night at 11:15.

The increasingly upset Leona tries to get the operator to trace the call, to get the police to investigate, etc. with no luck.  In the meantime, the phone is ringing off the hook with calls from a Mr. Evans asking for Henry.

sorry, wrong number 2

Leona simply cannot bear staying alone in the house.  She tries to find Henry through his secretary and is directed to his old girlfriend Sally.  Then, after she gets a telegram saying Henry has gone to a convention to Baltimore, she calls her doctor.  Finally, Mr. Evans leaves a disturbing message for Henry.  All these people fill in more of the story, segueing into flashback as they tell Leona what they know.  None of it is reassuring.

sorry wrong number 1

This is Barbara Stanwyck’s movie and is an acting tour de force.  She does nothing to make Leona in the least sympathetic but is the epitome of whining, controlling womanhood and very believable.  I though Burt Lancaster was a bit miscast as the henpecked husband but he does his best with the part.

The movie is the expansion of an excellent one-woman half-hour radio drama containing only Leona’s conversations with service people such as the operator, the police, a hospital nurse etc. Naturally, this would not make a film.  I can’t think of any other way that the filmmakers could have retained the basic premise but the movie does come off at times as gimmicky.  That said, it is well worth seeing for Stanwyck’s performance.

Barbara Stanwyck was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Sorry, Wrong Number.

Trailer (spoilers) – cinematography by Sol Polito

The original radio play with Agnes Moorehead


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