Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sorry, Wrong Number

TCM is running Sorry, Wrong Number tonight at midnight, as part of Barbara Stanwyck's time as TCM Star of the Month. It's a movie I've mentioned once or twice briefly in conjunction with some theme, but I've never done a full-length post on it before now.

Stanwyck plays Leona, a woman who is bedridden with a weak heart but who also seems like a bit of a neurotic hypochondriac. She's certainly domineering toward her husband Henry (Burt Lancaster). One night Henry has told Leona that he has to work late, while all of the servants have been given the night off. Unsurprisingly, this makes Leona nervous -- who would want to be left alone in a situation like that? So she calls Henry at the office to find out when he's going to be home. The only thing is, she doesn't get the office. Instead, she gets crossed lines, and what she hears gives her reason to believe that possibly somebody might be out to murder her!

At this point, we start getting a series of flashbacks that show why somebody -- specifically, Leona's husband -- might want to murder her. Leona was a daddy's girl, Daddy being a rich industrialist played by Ed Begley. Henry was a working-class man, clearly not the sort of person that a business magnate would want his daughter to marry. But Leona claims to love Henry, and Dad's spoiled her her whole life by giving her what she wants, so he's not about to stop now by keeping her from marrying the man she claims to love. Not only does he let Leona marry Henry, he gives Henry an executive position in the business!

The marriage isn't exactly a happy one, however. Henry didn't exactly bargain for getting the whole family when he married Leona, and he certainly didn't bargain for her being controlling, needy, and clingy; and claiming sickness when she doesn't get her way. Henry, trapped in a loveless marriage, responds by engaging in industrial espionage with the "family" business, which of course is going to get him in trouble as it's bound to be discovered. Working with criminals doesn't exactly help, either.

Sorry, Wrong Number started out as a half-hour radio play without all the flashbacks, and I have the feeling that it's material that works really well in the audio-only medium. Translated to film, it still works fairly well, although it seems as though there's something not quite right about it. Perhaps it's Stanwyck's character, who for much of hte movie comes across as unsympathetic to the point that you almost don't care whether she lives or dies. Lancaster's Henry seems aloof at times, although I suppose detaching oneself emotionally isn't a bad way to deal with somebody like Leona. The story, however, remains gripping, right up to its conclusion.

Sotty, Wrong Number has had a DVD release in the past, but it seems to be an out-of-print movie: you can find DVDs, but they'll be expensive.

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