Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards
Director: Anatole Litvak
Running Time: 89 mins
Sorry, Wrong Number is an American film about a woman who, in an attempt to get in touch with her husband, overhears a murder plot between two men on the telephone, and begins to believe that he may be party to it.
The premise for this film had me immediately fascinated. I was looking forward to a tense, unpredictable and claustrophobic thriller, but instead, I got a disappointingly run-of-the-mill mystery. Despite its captivating idea, Sorry, Wrong Number is a film that goes completely wide from its most effective direction, leaving the audience in little doubt about its outcome, and also getting bogged down in an unnecessarily long middle act.
However, this film isn’t all bad. The best part about it by far, and possibly the only reason that I was able to stay interested until the end, is Barbara Stanwyck’s performance. Somehow, she puts in yet another strong-willed and powerful performance, regardless of the fact that her character is a distressed bedridden housewife, and absolutely dominates every one of her scenes, proving a powerful magnet at the centre of an otherwise very disappointing film.
The main reason that I was so underwhelmed by Sorry, Wrong Number was because it wasted such a fascinating premise. The perfectly simple idea of a woman uncovering a murder plot over the phone, but being unable to do anything about it is absolutely brilliant, and has the potential to make a hugely intense and breathless thriller (something that a later film, Wait Until Dark, does extremely well).
Instead, the film rushes into delivering that premise, and then leaves too much time until the inevitable finale. I was sad to see that the foreshadowing was so blatant here, but what was most irritating was the fact that the film expends a potentially fast-paced and tense thriller for an hour and a half of explaining the mystery through flashback.
To me, it seemed as if the screenplay was just the wrong way round. If put in chronological order, I think there could have been a lot more sustained tension and unpredictability here. It still wouldn’t have been a stunner, but the way this film is structured is a big part of why it just doesn’t work in the end.
Overall, Sorry, Wrong Number is a film that really misses the mark. Although it fulfils its potential well in the very first and very last scenes, there’s very little to get excited about in between. Save for Barbara Stanwyck’s strong performance, I was disappointed at how lacking in thrills this film was, and that’s why it gets a 6.1 from me.