Watched February 3, 2012
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948): 5/5
Sorry, Wrong Number is the 1948 thriller/noir that earned star Barbara Stanwyck her fourth Oscar nomination.
Stanwyck portrays the bed-ridden Leona Stevenson, wife of Henry Stevenson (Burt Lancaster). Henry has left his wife alone at home, and she becomes paranoid after accidentally intercepting a phone call about a murder.
The film is structured through a series of “present-tense” scenes, interrupted frequently by long flashbacks. The flashbacks could have easily become tedious to the viewer because they’re frequent and drawn out, but their content is so engrossing that they avoid such a fate. The flashbacks accomplish not only keeping the viewer’s interest, but also pulling them into the plot even further and building up a very high level of suspense.
Fantastic performances are given by the entire cast. Stanwyck and Lancaster are supported by the equally talented Ann Richards, Wendell Corey and Ed Begley, among others. The best performances are given by Stanwyck and Richards, who both dish out near-perfect portrayals of the distress that their characters are feeling.
A few moments in the film are borderline over-the-top, but even the worst offenders still manage to fall on the side of believability, because the viewer feels the same anxiety that the characters do.
Stanwyck’s performance is particularly interesting to me, as we get to see her character in two polar opposite mindsets. In the scenes set in the present, she seems weak and scared. She’s alone in a home, helpless, worrying about her husband. In many of the flashbacks, however, she is a strong-willed woman who doesn’t take “No” for an answer. She maintains control over her own life and her husband’s.
The level of tension in Sorry, Wrong Number is great. Very rarely do I end a film of the “thriller” genre feeling — well, thrilled. This was one of those rare occasions where the film actually created a high level of anxiety and suspense in me. There were a number of surprises thrown in to keep the viewer on the edge of his or her seat, and they were all pulled off very effectively.
Stanwyck’s nomination was certainly well-deserved. Her performance as Leona is simply amazing, as is the film as a whole.