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Sorry, Wrong Number
Director: Anatole Litvak (Dir)
Release Date:   24 Sep 1948
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 1 Sep 1948
Production Date:   8 Jan--3 Mar 1948
Duration (in mins):   89
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Cast:   Barbara Stanwyck (Leona [Cotterell] Stevenson)  
    Burt Lancaster (Henry Stevenson)  
    Ann Richards (Sally Hunt Lord)  
    Wendell Corey (Dr. Alexander)  
    Harold Vermilyea (Waldo Evans)  
    Ed Begley (James Cotterell)  
    Leif Erickson (Fred Lord)  
    William Conrad (Morano)  
    John Bromfield (Joe, detective)  
    Jimmy Hunt (Peter Lord)  
    Dorothy Neumann (Miss Jennings)  
    Paul Fierro (Harpootlian)  
    Kristine Miller (Dolly, Dr. Alexander's girl friend)  
    Suzanne Dalbert (Cigarette girl)  
    George Stern (Proprietor of drug store)  
    Joyce Compton (Blonde)  
    Tito Vuolo (Albert, waiter)  
    Garry Owen (Bingo caller)  
    Holmes Herbert (Wilkins, butler)  
    Neal Dodd (Minister)  
    Louise Lorimer (Nurse)  
    Yola d'Avril (Marie, French maid)  
    Pepito Perez (Boat operator)  
    Ashley Cowan (Clam digger)  
    Igor Dega (Dancer)  
    Grace Poggi (Dancer)  
    Cliff Clark (Sgt. Duffy)  

Summary: Wealthy New York invalid Leona Cotterell Stevenson's lifeline is the telephone. Consequently, when she is left alone after her maid departs and gets a continuous busy signal from her husband Henry's office, she becomes worried and asks a telephone operator to connect her. Leona is accidentally connected to another call, during which she hears two men planning to murder a woman at 11:15 that night, while a train passes on a bridge. Horrified, Leona asks to trace the call, but the operator refuses, and the police are uninterested in her vague information. Leona then learns from Henry's secretary that he left the office in the afternoon after making a lunch date with a blonde named Sally Lord. Leona calls Sally, who does not want to speak in front of her husband, but agrees to call Leona back from a phone booth. Before the call goes through, Leona recalls Sally, who has told Leona that her maiden name was Hunt: Sally is dancing with Henry one night at a college dance when Leona, the spoiled daughter of a pharmaceutical manufacturer, boldly cuts in on them. Leona hotly pursues Henry, a high school dropout, who is defensive about his lower class heritage. Indifferent to Sally's heartfelt confession that she loves Henry, Leona decides to marry him. Her domineering father, James Cotterell, protests the marriage but gives in after Leona becomes hysterical, and soon hires Henry to work at his company. Not long after marrying, Henry realizes that Leona intends to use her money to control him. Leona's recollection of her former rival brings a sneer to her face, and after she picks up Sally's call, she learns that Sally's husband Fred, who works for the district attorney, is investigating Henry. Sally tells Leona that out of curiosity, she followed Fred from work one day: Fred and several investigators go to make a mysterious pay-off in an abandoned house on Staten Island. Sally later tries to warn Henry during their lunch date, but he is distracted and soon disappears. After hanging up with Leona, Sally follows Fred to a subway station, where she calls Leona again with news that the house on Staten Island burned down, three men have been arrested, and the situation is somehow tied to the Cotterell company. Leona next receives a telegram message by phone, informing her that Henry will be gone for the weekend. Hearing a train cross a nearby bridge, Leona suddenly fears for her life. Distraught, she calls her physician, Dr. Alexander, away from his dinner. Dr. Alexander reveals that ten days earlier, Henry sought a consultation with him about Leona's condition, which prompted Henry to recall the first time he learned of Leona's illness: Six months after marrying, Henry breaks a lunch date with Leona to meet with a prospective employer because he is frustrated at Cotterell. Leona demands that Henry continue to work for her father and when he refuses, they argue and she later collapses from a heart attack. Henry becomes further embittered after James uses his influence to prevent him from getting work elsewhere, and Leona continues to humiliate him. Leona's attacks persist until she becomes an invalid. Although Dr. Alexander diagnoses Leona's problems as psychological, Henry asks him to wait before informing her. The doctor tells Leona that he has not heard from Henry since. Leona's next call is from Waldo Evans, a chemist at Cotterell, who, after giving her specific messages for Henry, recounts how he became involved with him: The now embittered Henry convinces Evans, who dreams of buying a retirement home in England, to falsify Cotterell chemical reports and sell portions of the pharmaceuticals to a fence named Morano. After seven successful months, Evans is transferred to the company's New Jersey plant, and Henry and Evans go into business for themselves, selling the goods out of the house on Staten Island. Angered by their betrayal, Morano later confronts Henry and Evans and demands $200,000 and their remaining stock of drugs in exchange for their lives. When Henry protests that he has no money, Morano suggests that Henry pay him with Leona's life insurance money, as he knows that a Chicago doctor has given Leona only ninety days to live. Backed into a corner, Henry agrees to the deal, but when Leona lives, as he knew she would, Morano refuses to give him more time. Leona finds out that Morano has since been arrested, and that Evans burned the evidence in the Staten Island house. At 11:00, a man breaks into Leona's kitchen downstairs, just as Henry is calling her from New Haven. Henry initially denies his criminal activity, but when Leona reveals that Morano has been arrested, Henry panics. In tears, Leona sobs to Henry her apology for abusing him, and Henry, who has taken out a contract on her life, desperately urges her to go to the window and scream for help. Leona is paralyzed by fear, however, and hangs up the phone just before she is murdered. Henry, who is about to be arrested, calls Leona back. The murderer picks up the phone, and when Henry asks for his wife, responds, "Sorry, wrong number." 

Production Company: Hal Wallis Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Anatole Litvak (Dir)
  Richard McWhorter (Asst dir)
  Dan McCauley (Asst dir)
Producer: Hal Wallis (Prod)
  Anatole Litvak (Prod)
Writer: Lucille Fletcher (Scr)
Photography: Sol Polito (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Hans Dreier (Art dir)
  Earl Hedrick (Art dir)
Film Editor: Warren Low (Ed supv)
Set Decoration: Sam Comer (Set dec)
  Bertram Granger (Set dec)
Costumes: Edith Head (Cost)
  Ruser (Miss Stanwyck's jewels by)
Music: Franz Waxman (Mus score)
Sound: Gene Merritt (Sd rec)
  Walter Oberst (Sd rec)
Special Effects: Gordon Jennings (Spec photog eff)
  Farciot Edouart (Process photog)
Make Up: Wally Westmore (Makeup supv)
Production Misc: Richard Blaydon (Asst prod mgr)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the radio play "Sorry, Wrong Number" by Lucille Fletcher on Suspense (CBS, 25 May 1943).
Authors: Lucille Fletcher

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Hal Wallis Productions, Inc. 9/7/1948 dd/mm/yyyy LP1733 Yes

PCA NO: 12943
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Suspense
 
Subjects (Major): Class distinction
  Invalids
  Marriage
  Murder
  Telephone
 
Subjects (Minor): Chemists
  District attorneys
  Drugs
  Embezzlement
  Fathers and daughters
  Fences (Criminal)
  Heart disease
  Investigations
  New York City
  New York City--Staten Island
  Physicians
  Psychosomatic illness
  Romantic rivalry
  Secretaries
  Telephone operators

Note: The film opens with the following written prologue: "In the tangled networks of a great city, the telephone is the unseen link between a million lives...It is the servant of our common needs--the confidante of our inmost secrets...life and happiness wait upon its ring...and horror...and loneliness...and...death!!!" The 1943 radio play on which the film was based starred Agnes Moorehead as "Leona." The show was so popular that it was re-broadcast every year for ten years, and in 1947, Hal Wallis commissioned author Lucille Fletcher to expand her radio play into a full-length screenplay. According to information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library, the original story was titled "Murder on the Telephone." Fletcher published a novelization of her radio play and screenplay in 1948, co-authored by Allan Ullman.
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the script was initially rejected by the PCA because of its focus on illegal drug traffic. Reacting to an early draft of the script, a 12 Mar 1947 PCA memo also commented that "the present ending of the story indicates a criminal, the husband, going off scot free [and] an unacceptable scene in which a doctor urges divorce as a cure for a wife's hysteria. This we could not approve...." By Jan 1948, the PCA was still hesitant about approving the script despite several deletions with regard to drugs such as opium, stating "...it is almost impossible to treat the illegal dope traffic and not stimulate curiosity. We finally suggested in one last effort to get away from the illegal drug traffic that Stevenson and Evans would be engaged in the following activities: They would divert products of all kinds from the Cotterell Drug Co. to Morano, a fence, who would dispose of this stolen material, not in any sense in a drug traffic or drug enterprise...." This alteration to the story prompted the PCA to approve the final script.
       Barbara Stanwyck was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for this film. According to a Paramount News news item, the opening scene of a telephone switchboard was shot on location at a telephone company office on Gower St. in Hollywood, CA. Although actor John Bromfield worked on the film Harpoon in 1947, that film was not released until Oct 1948. Consequently, Sorry, Wrong Number marks his motion picture debut. On 9 Jan 1950, Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster reprised their roles for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the play. In Nov 1954, NBC-TV broadcast a television version of Sorry, Wrong Number , starring Shelley Winters on the Chrysler Climax series. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   31 Jul 1948.   
Daily Variety   26 Jul 48   pp. 3-4.
Film Daily   27 Jul 48   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Jul 48   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   17 Jul 48   p. 4243.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   31 Jul 48   p. 4257.
New York Times   2 Sep 48   p. 18.
Variety   28 Jul 48   p. 15.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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