Sorry, Wrong Number (1948, Anatole Litvak)

Didn’t seem very noirish, nor very good, for at least the first half. Barbara Stanwyck (between Double Indemnity and The Furies) is at her least appealing as a spoiled invalid shouting into the telephone all day and night, and her husband Burt Lancaster (in his noir period, between The Killers and Criss Cross) barely appears. Eventually it all falls into place. She is even more spoiled than it first seemed, having stolen Burt away from his girlfriend, given him a meaningless job at her father’s chemical corporation, then fallen into a psychosomatic paralysis to keep him at home taking care of her. Burt is no jewel himself, attempting to break free of his father-in-law’s grasp by stealing chemical supplies and selling them to gangsters. The “wrong number” of the title is a call Stanwyck accidentally overhears at the start, two men plotting a murder – hers, on order of her husband, who tries to stop it at the last minute. Too late, and though I love Ms. Stanwyck, this was one movie in which I didn’t mind her getting killed.

Since the plot comes together in fragments from Stanwyck’s perspective, gathering backstory over phone calls as time ticks away, I was hoping for a flashback-within-a-flashback, and got one! Burt’s cutie ex (Ann Richards) is nice enough to try helping out, though her husband (Leif Erickson, the grinning would-be cop-killer in The Tall Target) is investigating Lancaster. I also liked meek scientist Evans (Harold Vermilyea of The Big Clock and Edge of Doom), Burt’s reluctant partner in crime, who manages to escape (but perhaps not for long, since the cops are closing in on Burt). The Franz Waxman score can best be characterized as loud.

Between this and The Snake Pit with Olivia de Havilland the same year, Litvak was on fire making popular pictures about mental women – unfortunately, his two stars’ oscar nominations cancelled each other out so the award went to Jane Wyman.

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