Friday, October 7, 2011

Film #78: Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

The most notorious instance of crossed phone lines happened in 1985, when President Ronald Reagan picked up the phone to order some pink-frosted cupcakes to fix his “girl-time sads” and instead overheard Mikhail Gorbachev telling Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini that Reagan was an mouth-breathing “fart head” and his wife was a “moldy skeleton.”

Nuclear war was averted after Nancy Reagan calmed down the president with a well-rehearsed “anti-missile” striptease… but still, it was close.

In other words, the phone is a dangerous machine. No one knows that better than Leona Stevenson, the heroine/foil in this week’s stop in horror history, “Sorry, Wrong Number.”

The heir to a pharmaceutical company fortune created by her daddy, mega-rich “Cough-Drop Queen” Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck) seems to have it all. A huge house, stacks of money, an attractive husband, and a crystal cigarette lighter. She does have it all, well, everything but love and companionship.
Oh, and a good heart. We don’t mean that metaphorically. Seems her’s is nearly ticked out, making her a bed ridden invalid.

Though residing in Chicago, Leona and her husband Henry Stevenson (Burt Lancaster) take a long-term visit to New York City. Henry has some business to take care of there at the pharmaceutical company side office.

One night while all alone in her luxury townhouse, Leona tries to make a phone call to Henry at his office. The phone is Leona’s only connection to society, since she is typically trapped on the top floor of their Manhattan digs.
Henry was supposed to be home hours ago, but is nowhere to be found, leaving sick-old Leona alone and frightened.

Instead of reaching Henry, crossed phone lines tap Leona into a conversation between two gruff sounding blokes. What she overhears nearly stops her faintly beating heart. The men describe in detail a murder they are to commit that night.
It’ll be near 2nd Avenue, they wait for the private patrolman to step away for a break, and right when the train goes by they will attack the woman, whose screams will be drowned out by train’s whistle.

Frantic, Leona calls the police, who say there is too little information to prevent the murder. That, and, eh, this is New York lady, murders happen every day. Take a number!

While trying to track down her husband to come and comfort her, Leona has conversations with several people that offer pieces of information about where her husband might be. The problem, the pieces seem to point to the fact that the murder conversation may have been about her!
Seeeee, Leona doesn’t make many friends. Her life motto is: “If you want something, get it now.” That’s not playing nice.

When Henry and Leona first meet at an ivy-league school dance, Henry was just a small-town, uneducated nobody from the sticks. But he had a nice ass, and better yet Leona’s best friend was in love with him. I must have him, Leona demanded. And whatever Leona wants, Leona gets.

Throwing a life of wealth and the promise of a c-suite job at her father’s pharmaceutical company at Henry, Leona brainwashes him into marrying her. But he soon finds that being a kept man by the ever demanding and cruel Leona – who holds all the purse strings – is actually worse than being poor.

Sooo, for those keeping score at home, here is the tally. Leona’s best friend hates her for stealing her man. Leona’s husband hates her for being a controlling tight-wadded bitch. And nearly everyone else she has every come in contact with also hates her for the latter reason.
You are surprised someone might be trying to kill you!?

Is Leona just over exaggerating, or is a killer really coming for her broken ass?
Can she track down her missing husband in time to be saved?
If a tree falls in the woods, and no one’s around, does it make a sound?
Find out, in the 1948 telecommunications nightmare “Sorry, Wrong Number.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 2.3
Chris Dimick rings:
“This film is a lot like dialing the wrong number. You go into the call with excitement, thinking you will soon be interacting with someone pleasant.
But that quickly turns to confusion when the mysterious party picks up the phone, and you frantically try to figure out just what went wrong.

This turns to verbal sparring with the perturbed, disturbed person on the other end.
“Hi, is a good movie there?...Oh, wait, but you are a movie, right?... No, I’m looking for a good movie, one with the usually great actors Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster?...Well, what number is this?”

From confusion you move into panic (how will I converse with a good movie now!) to misplaced anger. “What do you mean a good movie isn’t there?! I’m sure it is not my fault! I didn’t misdial… this is supposed to be a classic!” At the end of it you just feel annoyed, a little guilty, and definitely like you just wasted previous moments of your life.

RDHP faithful reader Jim told Nick and I before our viewing that the story for “Sorry, Wrong Number” was originally a radio play… a much shorter radio play. And I would imagine a much BETTER radio play. The premise is spooky and interesting enough – a despised invalid woman intercepts a phone call that could be connected to her own murder.

But where the movie fails is when it draws out the “why” Leona might meet the wrong end of a piano wire. The scenes of her meeting Henry as well as Henry's decent into mad frustration over his controlling wife were painfully slow and drawn out. I once had to literary wake Nick up at one point; it was that booooooooooooring at parts.

Because the movie depicted drug trafficking, it got this warning. Damn censorship!

Another flaw to the film is the viewer can pretty much see the ending a mile away. That might not have been the case in the trusting 1940s, but in 2011 a fella watching a horror/suspense movie pretty much knows what to expect when an invalid intercepts a conversation about murder.

What saves the film from total trash is the excellent snippy acting of Barbara Stanwyck as the frazzled cough drop queen. Stanwyck was nominated for Best Actress in the 1949 Academy Awards for her portrayal – a well deserved honor.
She is cold, quick witted, biting and the most beautiful invalid ever put on film. Lancaster is also great as the redneck turned rich husband with dreams of growing a set of balls. Even while wearing the best suits, he still shows the roots of his past in flashes of hick conversation and rough-guy mannerisms.

Agnes Moorehead in Sorry, Wrong Number radio edition

Acting aside, this one just doesn’t hold up to 2011 standards. Listen to the radio play instead… the best adaptation of which originally aired on the Suspense radio program on May 25, 1943, and was essentially a one-woman show with Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Stevenson. (It must have been good; the play was reprised seven times, each starring Moorehead).

Sorry, Wrong Number… I wish I never called.”

N-Rating: 0.4
Nick Rich rings:
“I fell asleep to this film.


As a committed partner here at the RDHP I handle our viewing with integrity, care and caffeine (if needed). Sure there have been more than a few films that have caused my eyelids to feel heavier than a child's conscience the first time they lie to their parents, but when time-traveling through cinematic history what does one expect? You have to figure there will be a few flicks that will test your Sandman skirting skills!

Enter Sandman!

Until this viewing I had fended of the sleuth of slumber time and time again (narrowly at times, but successfully nonetheless!). I knew Sorry, Wrong Number would probably be a tough case, so I took the proper precaution and made a caffeinated beverage (which is especially effective in my case as I rarely partake) before settling in for the viewing. I was flying high, the world couldn't touch me! I felt as if I could run for at least 200 feet! Then about twenty minutes into the film I lost the 'energy' which was promised me by my cocoa frappuccino and spent the rest of the viewing (which was an hour, but felt like three) trying to avoid my head from bobbing more than a cork in a Kentucky stream during spawning season.

One minute you're up - the next down.

'Nick are you asleep?'

I snapped my head up and tried to feign alertness.

'Yeah, of course.'

How long had I been under? It couldn't have been more than 30 seconds... or could it? 
Is the resolution on the webcam high enough that Chris could tell I had nodded off? Why didn't I get Chris a cheaper one for his wedding?!?

There was no denying it. I had fallen asleep. ASLEEP!
I hadn't felt as guilty about falling asleep during a film since 1997 when I attended a late-night showing of Return of the Jedi with a super-fan after an extremely long day at work in the bowels of a hospital kitchen.

I still have nightmare about what I may have missed Lando do on the big screen.

Thanks Sorry, Wrong Number, you've really made an impact on my life. Next time call collect so I can refuse to accept the charges.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you're in the mood to take an exotic trip to dream land or if you want to tarnish your film watching record.”

Things We Learned From Sorry, Wrong Number:
-Like a cable modem, people used to rent phones from the phone company.
-The phone links millions of lives.
-You can shake words out of a phone.
-Pills make it all better.
-Education is pointless if you want to make money.
-“Oh, Applesauce” is how old ladies curse.
-A way to brush off a question in the ‘40s was to say “oh, what does that have to do with the price of eggs?!”
-There is something called a cardiac-neurotic.
-China owns the US.
-But the US has more nukes:

RDHP Presents:
Famous Phone Calls
The telephone is one of the most important and annoying inventions of our lifetime, right up there with the Guttenberg press and the McGriddle (the syrup is inside the pancake bun!)
Since its formal invention in 1876 there have been many famous conversations held with the device. Below, we honor the top five phone calls ever made.

Alexander Graham Bell Professing His Love for Watson
What else did you think the first words said over a phone, “Watson, come here! I want you!” meant?

Bart Simpson Pranking Moe’s Tavern
If he does it again, Moe’s going to use his head as a bucket and paint his house with Bart’s brains.

Nixon Calls Apollo 11 Astronauts on the Moon
The first thing he said to them: “Make sure you load up on that yummy cheese, boys! Them’s good eatin’!”

Cameron Fry’s Phony Phone Call to Edward Rooney
Even though Rooney “could squash his nuts into an oblivion,” Ferris Bueller’s best friend Cameron still went through with the call that would free lovely Sloan from the torture of high school. Call him sir, god-dammit!

ET Phones Home
One of the first cell phone calls recorded on film.

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