Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sorry, Wrong Number

Sorry, Wrong Number is a near perfect thriller, less so for Lucille Fletcher’s story (which is very good in itself) than for its atmosphere and mood.

With the aid of some fine camera work by Sol Polito, director Anatole Litvak captures the sense of lonely desolation that marks the lives of the characters quite well. At the center of it all is Barbara Stanwyck’s Leona Stevenson, the bed-ridden heiress who overhears a telephone conversation between two men plotting what she will discover is her own murder. Then there’s Burt Lancaster’s Henry Stevenson, whose anger that his marriage is thwarting his ambition leads him into a more dangerous trap when he agrees to arrange his wife’s murder so he can pay off his debts to the gangsters he has betrayed.

And there’s Harold Vermilyea's Waldo Evans, the chemist who becomes a drug thief, hoping the money can finance an idealized retirement on an English horse farm but instead plots his suicide to escape arrest by the police.

As in many noirs, flashbacks dominate Sorry, Wrong Number to suggest the characters have no escape from their fate. Many scenes are memorable for their visual qualities alone: the rain descending on the dark street when Henry Stevenson offers Waldo Evans a ride home, a gesture offered only to lure the chemist into his illegal scheme to steal drugs from his father-in-law’s company; the lonely beach on Staten Island where Sally Ford (the lovely Ann Richards) follows her detective husband to an abandoned house where the drug ring will be uncovered; the menacing shack is also the setting when Stevenson and Evans are confronted by Morano (William Conrad) and his men, the gangsters they betrayed by striking out on their own; and the darkened Manhattan hotel room from where Evans, seen only in silhouette, calls Leona and explains the events that are leading to her husband’s downfall.

The climactic murder is also imaginatively presented with the emphasis on the mystery more than the mayhem with a shadow ascending the long and winding staircase in the Stevenson home where the victim awaits in her bedroom.

A good show from start to finish.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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