Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sorry, Wrong Number

This is Barbara Stan-week! All this week we'll celebrate the life and career of my favorite actress, Barbara Stanwyck, covering different eras of her long and distinguished journey through the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Sorry, Wrong Number
seen online via YouTube

There's this video on YouTube that compiles a bunch of moments in horror movies when the cell phone stops working for whatever reason. It's interesting to see how often it happens, because cellphones have made instant communication easier than ever - which can be a hindrance when you're writing a movie about a group of teenagers being stalked by a psycho killer. I mean, how long a movie would Halloween have been if Jamie Lee Curtis could have had the cops come down on Michael Myers with just one call, even if she was away from a land line?

Being stalked over the phone is a horror movie staple going at least as far back as Black Christmas. What I've never understood, though, is why the victim continues to stay on the line and listen to the killer rant and threaten. It's so silly! If it were me, I would've hung up long ago, but they continue to listen and to get more and more scared, and the next thing you know, boom - the killer's in the house and coming up behind them. I think one of the Scream movies made fun of this.

Sorry, Wrong Number isn't a horror movie, but the ever-mounting sense of dread the bed-ridden Barbara Stanwyck feels as a result of the telephone is palpable. While making a call, the operator accidentally connects her to a different line in which she hears two people plotting a murder. Through the series of subsequent calls she makes and receives, she learns that her missing husband may be connected to it in some way, but she can't even leave her bedroom because she has some mystery ailment. And then she figures out who the intended murder victim is and things get real in a hurry...

I didn't like the first two-thirds of the movie. The editing wasn't smooth, the music was over-the-top and I wasn't feeling a great deal of sympathy for Stanwyck's character (in flashbacks we see that she was a scheming, man-stealing bitch). But then a funny thing happened. Something about the way she played her - the state of utter hysteria she's in when the reality of her situation becomes more and more apparent - turned me right around and suddenly I wanted to know what would happen to her. And the ending just knocked me out. I could not believe it ended the way it did, but it did!

Number was Stanwyck's fourth Best Actress Oscar nomination, and while I might have thought her shrill at first, like I said, somewhere along the way she made me feel for her, which I didn't expect. And while this may not be the best film noir I've ever seen, it has its moments, especially in the cinematography. You'll see Stanwyck for instance, alone in her bedroom on the phone, and the camera will slowly move around the room, taking in everything, and then it'll move out and down the hall, all while Stanwyck is still talking on the phone. There's more than one scene like that, and it provides a nice sense of isolation. Still, it's the final fifteen minutes or so that definitely save this movie.


Previously in Barbara Stan-week:
Night Nurse/Ladies They Talk About
Golden Boy


  1. 35th on my noirathon list, it's one of those intriguing and practically unique concepts in the "genre" so there was no way i couldn't watch it.

  2. Yeah, I was gonna try and draw some kind of comparison to 'Rear Window' - protagonist confined to a single room discovers a mystery - but 'Number' runs in a very different direction.


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