Alone and ill in bed Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck), a self diagnosed invalid, awaits her husband’s return from work. After hours of waiting she begins to make a series of phone calls to discover his whereabouts when a mix up with the lines has her over hearing a plot to murder a woman at 11:15 pm. As she frantically tries to report the murder and get in touch with her husband, she learns that the deadly plot is for her. Sorry, Wrong Number has a host of great acting, a juicy plot and beautiful cinematography.
Stanwyck, once again, shows why she is one of the great film noir actresses with her portrayal of Leona Stevenson, a spoilt heiress with a sour attitude. As she lays in bed dressed in the finest garments, wearing her finest jewels it’s clear from the off what kind of character we’re dealing with and Stanwyck plays her wonderfully. Her histrionic performance captures both the genre in it’s dramatic campiness and the character in her selfish and spoiled ways. The film’s cast has very few poor performances; Henry Stevenson, Leona’s husband, played by Burt Lancaster, is both charming and cold and just as problematic as his spouse.
One of the things I love most about this genre is its inability to present a real victim. Sorry, Wrong Number first positions Leona as the victim, laid helpless in bed with a husband who doesn’t seem to care for her. However, after a series of phone calls and flashback montages, we see that Leona isn’t as helpless as she seems. Does she deserve to die because of it? Not quite. But she isn’t the innocent victim. Nearly all characters in Sorry, Wrong Number is corrupt on some level and out of the two that aren’t, one of them is a young boy no older than 8. The plot is thick and exciting while staying direct and to the point, it’s clear and concise story telling done well.
As with many Noir films, the cinematography and overall aesthetic is beautiful. The plays with chiaroscuro, and camera movement is terrific. While it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before and something we’ve seen a million times since, here it works wonderfully. The work with silhouettes and bright light is striking. The feel for the story line really comes through its appearance. Grand and dramatic as well as dingy and corrupt, the working between cinematographer Sol Polito and director Anatole Litvak is a gorgeous match.
Sorry, Wrong Number is a great piece of Film Noir and was perfect for my Sunday morning viewing.
Thanks for reading,
all the best,