Sorry, Wrong Number (1948): Classic Movie Review

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948): Classic Movie Review

Sorry, Wrong Number. USA 1948, 89 minutes, black & white, Paramount Pictures. Director: Anatole Litvak. Written by Lucille Fletcher. Based on the radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number” by Fletcher.

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey, Harold Vermilyea, Ed Begley, Leif Erickson, William Conrad, John Bromfield, Jimmy Hunt, Dorothy Neumann, Paul Fierro.

Plot summary: Leona Stevenson overhears two men plotting a murder of a woman who turns out to be herself.

Review: Recently, the lovely Barbara Stanwyck would have celebrated her 105th birthday. In dear memory of an unforgettable leading lady, I have thus decided to present Sorry, Wrong Number, a film noir for which she received her fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1949.

Originally a radio drama that featured Agnes Moorehead in a solo performance in 1943, Sorry, Wrong Number was turned into a screenplay by Lucille Fletcher, the playwright herself, and conquered the silver screen in the fall of 1948. Starring Barbara Stanwyck as invalid Leona Stevenson, who overhears two men plotting a murder on the phone, the story is dark and suspenseful in writing, as well as in effect. Told in real time with the use of explanatory flashbacks, Leona’s desperate attempt to inform the authorities are as futile as her effort to reach her husband, Henry. The phone, as her only medium of communication with the outside world, turns into a beacon of hope and sorrow when she finally realizes that the victim is going to be herself. Haunting in her desperation, Ms. Stanwyck’s performance is never quiet but rather striking in its fierceness and color. Supported by an excellent co-star, Burt Lancaster, as Henry Stevenson and an overall convincing cast, Ms. Stanwyck’s fear and constriction reaches an almost tangible level with every phone call she places, every secret she learns. Her face reflects the horrid situation she finds herself trapped in, the mere panic she begins to absorb. It is the music by Franz Waxman and the expert use of shadows and light which does the rest, affecting the audience with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Reclaiming her role as Leona on CBS’ Lux Radio Theater in 1950, Barbara Stanwyck showed her full range of emotions in a part that was the last to get her the attention from the Motion Picture Academy until she finally received an honorary Oscar in 1981. As one of her many films that left a mark until today, Sorry, Wrong Number is a classic that never gets old but has the potential to attract an entire new generation of fans. With its enthralling style and Ms. Stanwyck’s powerhouse performance, the film is perfect to bring sunshine to an autumn-like July and a beautiful way to honor her today.

Available on DVD as well as an audio CD featuring the 1950 radio play.

Melanie Simone is a writer with a degree in American Studies and English. On Talking Classics, she savors her love for vintage Hollywood.

  • Joel

    As usual, the great Stanwyck gives it all she’s got!  Highly entertaining and well produced film.
    Lancaster was wasted, but probably helped at the box office…

  • El Bee

    Personally, I feel when the audience is not in bed with Stanwyck, the movie drags. But when she is on screen, the film pops. The opening scene alone is a study in camera use to tell the audience the where, when, who, what, and why even before a word is spoken. I usually felt that Stanwyck’s hysterics were one of her weaker displays of her powers as an actress. But I still love her.

  • Mayka

    Great movie. Barbara Stanwyck is great and you can see what a fantastic actress she was when she is the one that carries the whole picture. 

  • DIRK

    I don’t know if we have an actress today that could pull off this great tour de force!!  Her face so expressionistic that it conveys her helplessness, but also her spirit until we as the audience really can believe that she will get out of this somehow!!  Complete suspense!  I had a tension headache the first time I saw it I was so caught up in her predicament!!

  • Tomscats

    Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite actress of her era but in watching this one I realized that I kept wishing Burt Lancaster would go ahead and do her in, just to get her to shut up.

  • pocroc

    Saw it on the big screen as a kid.  Terrifying suspense!

  • Arthur_G

    Great movie.

  • Frankie

    Just got the DVD, because I love the plot line, and always get involved as I watch it.

  • nick

    Weird comment by Mealnie Simone, ‘perfect to bring sunshine to an autumn-like July’. This film is probably the most darkest and noirest of  Hollywood films of the 40’s. That it got greenlighted, is always amazing to me 

  • bella

    sorry wrong number is one of barbara stanwyck’s best roles ever.  how great she is as a frightened woman trying to get help!  very convincing.  what a shame they tried to remake it word for word with loni anderson (for tv), 1989.  it was horribly pathetic to say the least.

  • DollyT

     Sorry Wrong Number is an entegral part of my Film Classic Collection.  I was 13 years old when
    the movie cam out and it left a vivid impression on me.  Barbara should have received the Acadamy Award for that movie in particular. I also remember her radio performance in Lux Radio Theater as well.

  • Chanelle Lonie

    I love this movie, Sorry, Wrong Number, it is not shown enough and I can’t get the entire movie off of You Tube….Show this movie mor AMC and TCM

  • Croonerman

    Barbara Stanwyck was really good in “Sorry, Wrong Number”, but I have to say in one of the last
    scenes where the older gentleman is explaining to her on the phone about her husband and where
    he is–is hilarious to say the least! Especially when he has to repeat it again to her. WoW! So funny.

  • gingi

    the greatest actress of all time, bar none. she could do anything, comedy drama etc truly the best actress of all time

  • roger lynn

    she was robbed,,jane Wyman was ok a Johnny Belinda-whom Ms Stanwyck lost too(they were great friends),Double Indemnity,she lost to Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight,,Ball Of Fire,,she lost to Joan Fontaine,Suspicion….Stella Dallas,,she lost to Luise Rainer The Good Earth