19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
"I've just had a terrible shock!",
This review is from: Sorry Wrong Number [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
With its serpentine storyline and its dark machinations, there's no doubt that Sorry, Wrong Number is a noir classic of the highest caliber. It's certainly exciting, and with characters weaving in and out of the story at a moments notice, the film takes you on a sinister and menacing journey. Of course, the movie also stars the wonderful Barbara Stanwyck. This is the role she would become famous for and the one in which she would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Using not just one flashback, but multiple flashbacks to enlarge the story, Sorry Wrong Number tells the story of Leona Stevenson (Stanwyck) who has recently been confined to her bed in her summer home of New York. The home is more like a mansion than a quaint home, with huge, empty rooms and a vast swirling grand staircase that seems to stretch on forever; Leona is ensconced in the top floor with the telephone being her only means of communication with the outside world.
Leona has been trying to get hold of her husband Henry (Bert Lancaster). She's panicky that he has left her alone and has been repeatedly calling his office to find out why he hasn't come home, but the line is always busy. Leona is insecure and highly strung type, and she hates being left unaided in this big, deserted house. Lately, she's suffering from heart problems, causing her to constantly wipe her brow and nervously suck on cigarettes.
Her mood becomes worse when she accidentally overhears a telephone conversation about a murder of a woman that is to take place that night at 11:15 p.m. She asks the telephone operator to help and tries to convey to her the dreaded conversation she has just overheard, but the operator tells her to call the police because the call can't be traced. The police, however, aren't interested telling her that information that she gave them is too vague.
Perhaps though, it is Leona herself that is the target of the murder? Her father (Ed Begley) calls her regularly from their permanent home in Chicago, where he owns a big drug company and where she lives permanently in the same mansion with her husband. He tells her that Henry should be home and that he has no company business, and that he'll speak to him tomorrow about just that.
Leona soon receives a telephone message wired by her husband that he is away on business for the weekend and won't be able to see her until Sunday morning. This makes her even more worried and anxious. Soon she receives several phone calls from different people, each with a diverse story to tell about her missing husband.
There's Sally (Ann Richards) an old flame of Henry's who had met Henry that day for a luncheon date. There's also her doctor (Wendell Corey), who told her husband a few weeks ago that she was as sound as a bell, and that her problems are mental: she's actually a cardiac neurotic and doesn't need medical help after all. And then there's Mr. Evans (Harold Vermilyea), an enigmatic chemist, who works for her father's company and tells Leona of her husband's plans to cheat the company by stealing one of their drug products.
Leona is forced to put the different stories together, like the pieces of a puzzle. However, as the mystery of her husband's disappearance is revealed, the poor woman becomes increasingly more fraught, with her precious and insular world threatening to break down right in front of her. The phone becomes her lifeline, her only link with sanity and safely and as the clock gradually approaches 11.15 pm, Leona realizes that it is perhaps her own life that is in serious danger.
This is a role that Stanwyck was born to play, and she manages to capture, with perfect resonance, Leona's mixture of vulnerability, hysteria, and perpetual self-indulgence. Leona has been doted on all her life by her wealthy father, and she's used to getting what she wants. She goes out of her way to trap Henry into a loveless marriage, and now he's become a kind browbeaten husband. She goes to pieces faking tantrums and heart attacks when he tries to assert some kind of financial freedom independent of her father.
Sorry Wrong Number is all about the trepidation of being left on one's own without the means to defend oneself. Even though Leona's handicap is probably just mental, she is just so paralyzed with fear and anxiety that the once familiar now holds danger and menace at every turn. She's so paralyzed that she can't even get up from the bed to defend herself. Director, Anton Litvak, manages to effectively capture the sinister claustrophobia of the story and he shoots Leona's bedroom as if it were a luxury prison where she's been confined for what seems like forever.
Sorry, Wrong Number ultimately stands as a testament to Stanwyck's finely tuned and hysterical performance as Leona. She's an arrogant, self-obsessed and conceited woman, but somehow in the madness and panic of the moment, and in the midst of terrifying horror, Stanwyck makes us actually feel sorry for her character. Mike Leonard August 05.
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