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Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) is a Flawed Film Noir

'Sorry, Wrong Number' is not the best film noir but the climax ends with a terrifying conclusion.

By Marielle SabbagPublished 4 months ago 3 min read

I didn’t know I was going to overhear a murder heist tonight.

Sorry, Wrong Number was dialed into theaters in 1948. One night, Leona Stevenson, an invalid woman accidentally overhears a murder plot over the phone. As she desperately tries to stop the murder from happening she learns the horrible truth of who they’re after.

Sorry, Wrong Number wastes no time getting into its terrifying premise. However, the film wastes what could have been a suspenseful story with needless exposition of the past and the crime at play.

Barbara Stanwyck’s intense portrayal of Leona Stevenson is filled with every bit of vulnerability and determination necessary to resolve the situation. Stanwyck was so emotionally exhausted after each day of filming that she claims that her hair turned grey because of the stress of working on this film.

Stanwyck’s role as an invalid woman was ahead of its time. Despite the limitation of her health issues, Leona doesn’t let it stop her from preventing this murder. Don’t let others or yourself deter you from what you want.

This film should have just been Stanwyck. The problem with Sorry, Wrong Number is that it intercepts too many subplots of the other characters. The film could have significantly benefited from maintaining a singular focus on the main character and her increasingly desperate attempts to unravel the mystery before it's too late.

Burt Lancaster plays Henry Stevenson, Leona’s husband. Off-camera, Lancaster and the director of Sorry, Wrong Number had disagreements regarding his character and motivations.

We don’t need to watch an entire segment about the villain's plan against Leona. As Sally (Ann Richards) is explaining to Leona about what she witnessed, she claims twice that she waited an hour for the villains to exit a house. That’s so corny both in dialogue and watching Sally waiting for them. Why do we need to witness this?

With all the dialogue and running back and forth between the other characters, I forgot what Sorry, Wrong Number was about and became bored. The subplots interrupt the pacing leaving no sense of tension. Sorry, Wrong Number could have significantly benefited from maintaining a singular focus on the main character.

After watching Sorry, Wrong Number, I learned that it was based on a radio show. Anatole Litvak wastes a suspenseful storyline with pointless explosion of the villain’s motive and Leona’s health situation. The exposition also ruins the atmosphere.

We should have remained in Leona’s room the entire time and only hear the voices of supporting characters over the phone. Furthermore, the decision to shift the setting away from Leona's bedroom, where much of the tension is built, results in a loss of the claustrophobic atmosphere that could have heightened the sense of confinement and impending danger.

The fragments in the story aside, I am impressed with Litvak’s close attention to Barbara Stanwyck and her scenes. Litvak asked Stanwyck for her advice on how she wanted to film her scenes. All of Stanwyck’s scenes were filmed in 14 days in chronological order.

Litvak’s filming techniques match the ambiance of the story’s atmosphere. In one shoot, the camera quickly diverts from Leona to the window. Additionally, the film's moody, atmospheric cinematography and the use of shadowing effectively capture the essence of the film noir genre, creating a discernible sense of foreboding uncertainty.

Honestly, you get the idea of the film if you watch the first ten minutes and then the remaining fifteen minutes of the film. Sorry, Wrong Number is not the best film noir but the climax ends on a terrifying conclusion that I was not expecting.

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About the Creator

Marielle Sabbag

Writing has been my passion since I was 11 years old. I love creating stories from fiction, poetry, fanfiction. I enjoy writing movie reviews. I would love to become a creative writing teacher and leave the world inspiring minds.

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