Sorry Wrong Number (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Sorry Wrong Number” is a film noir that starred Barbara Stanwyck as Leona Stevenson and Burt Lancaster as her husband Henry.  They have trapped themselves in a relationship that will doom both of them.  He is a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks and she is the daughter of James Cotterell, a very wealthy owner of a pharmaceutical company in Chicago.  Henry’s life as Leona’s husband consists of working as a flunky for her father and begging for spending money from his demanding and neurotic wife.  When he tries to break away and get a job outside of her father’s company Cotterell puts out the word on the street that no one will hire without losing his business.  When Henry perseveres to break away Leona has an attack that her father tells him is a dangerous heart condition that could kill her at any time that she becomes excited.

So, Henry is trapped for good and all so he decides to take advantage of his position in the company by setting up a scheme with a chemist named Waldo Evans to steal extremely valuable drug intermediates and sell them to a gangster named Morano.  But he tries to double-cross Morano but when he catches on the gangster tells him that he wants Leona’s life insurance payoff.  Apparently, Leona’s doctor has told her she’ll only last a few more days.  So, Henry agrees to pay off on the policy within a month.  But they go to New York City so that Leona can consult with a heart specialist.  And the specialist finds that Leona’s heart is fine, it’s a psychosomatic illness.  So Morano is going to have Leona killed but in the meantime the police are closing in on Morano, Evans and Henry.

All this is learned during flashbacks in the movie during phone calls.  The whole movie for Leona is taking place in an expensive apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a series of phone calls with the other characters.  In the opening scene Leona picks up the phone and thinks she’s hearing a crossed line with two other speakers and they are planning to murder a woman that night.  For the rest of the movie, she tries to get in touch with Henry to get his help.  Leona feels trapped in her bed because of her belief in a heart condition so she stays and becomes more and more hysterical as she calls from place to place looking for him.  And along the way she learns, bit by bit, about Henry’s criminal business.  But at the very end she finds out about the life insurance plot from Henry and he tells her the call she intercepted was about her own murder.  But it’s too late, just as Henry tells her to scream out the window for help the killer comes up the staircase and strangles her.  When Henry calls back to Leona the killer says “Sorry wrong number.”

This is a pretty clever set up for a movie.  Having the whole movie take place in a room gives it a claustrophobic feel.  The only problem is that Stanwyck tries so hard to make her character a neurotic shrew that it works too well.  Halfway through the movie I wanted to murder Stanwyck myself.  The rest of the movie was fine but every time Stanwyck started freaking out I felt like turning the movie off.  And when the killer finally strangled her, I felt very relieved and grateful.

I would only recommend this movie to anyone who isn’t put off by the description I’ve given.