Sorry, Wrong Number started as an extended radio play and a TV show. Because of its huge success, Paramount Studios finally decided to make it into a noir film, and gave the honors of being a director to Anatole Litvak.
What begins as a harmless phone call suddenly turns into a fast-paced and riveting story of deception, felony, betrayal, great fear, and death. Bedridden Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck) eavesdrops on a conversation between two men, and happens to realize that what she just heard is a murder plot that is going to be performed in a few hours. The precious telephone is the only thing that connects her with the outside world. But as it turns out, this seemingly neutral device can also be an object of homicide (like later in Dial M for Murder). As the hours pass by, through conversations with various people, she stumbles onto a mysterious plan – which involves stealing big amounts of money from her father’s firm – designed by no one other than her husband Henry (Burt Lancaster). And going further into details, Leona suddenly understands that she might actually be the one, who is in a grave danger on that ill- fated evening.
The telephone calls intertwine in a fine manner with the flashbacks, which reveal all the missing links in the storyline. Additionally, the used narrative technique is able to build the tension and form an authentic noir atmosphere.
The chilling music plays very well with the most climatic and frightening sequences in the film. One of them occurs when Leona comprehends that what seemed to be a call for salvation is really just another step towards deadly end – ‘Bowery 2-100 – the City Morgue’. Another example: Leona hears a clicking sound when she talks to the hospital nurse and knows that someone just got inside her house and listens to all that she says on the phone.
Unfortunately, as much as I like the storyline, I’m not able to say the same about the two main actors. Barbara Stanwyck’s character just makes you wish from the start that she would be the true victim of the whole intrigue. Her portrayal of a selfish, mentally unstable and maniac princess is quite convincing, but not satisfactory enough for the first lady of the noir genre. I wasn’t really capable of feeling any compassion towards her character. Burt Lancaster is a great actor, of course, but in this movie his performance is a bit too stiff and uneasy. He sometimes looks as though he was completely detached from the story.
However, I would highly recommend this movie to any fan of the great noir cinema. Its gripping storyline, surprising plot twists, great direction and perfect use of the suspense factor account for a movie that every cinephille should watch and admire.