13 May 2010 | secondtake
Complex noir plot builds and builds...and builds, until...!!!!
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
You can tell this thriller was once a radio play--it is mostly talk, and often over the telephone. But what drama can be built on a string of conversations around the office, in cars in the rain, out on a lonely beach on Staten Island, and on the telephone, often filled with mystery and doom.\
Not that it's not a visual movie, either. There is a big gloomy house, and lots of dark city streets. Shadows and moving camera and close-ups of faces and telephones, all keep you glued and increasingly worried. By the end, the really jarring, memorable end, you are ready for what you can never be ready for.
Beware, the plot is confusing. Even seeing it twice I had to pay attention to who was who, and what turn of events had just taken place. Part of the reason is there is a bewildering use of flashbacks, even flashbacks within flashbacks, told by all kinds of different characters. The plot is laid out methodically, but take notes as you go, or at least take note. The initial overheard phone call is key to it all, and it gets reinforced later somewhat, but pay heed there.
And the person on the phone? A sharp, bitter, convincing Barbara Stanwyck, who really knows how to be steely and vulnerable at the same time. Burt Lancaster is more solid and stolid, and maybe less persuasive overall, but he carries a more practical part of the story. It keeps coming back to Stanwyck in bed, and the telephone which is her contact with the facts, as they swirl and finally descend.
Director Anatole Litvak has some less known but thrilling dark dramas to look for, including Snake Pit. But this is his most sensational winner, partly for Stanwyck, and partly for the last five minutes, which is as good as drama gets.