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Sorry, Wrong Number

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sorry, Wrong Number
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnatole Litvak
Screenplay byLucille Fletcher
Based onSorry, Wrong Number
by Lucille Fletcher
Produced by
CinematographySol Polito
Edited byWarren Low
Music byFranz Waxman
Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 1, 1948 (1948-09-01)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.8 million (U.S. rentals)[1]

Sorry, Wrong Number is a 1948 American thriller film noir directed by Anatole Litvak,[2] from a screenplay by Lucille Fletcher, based on her 1943 radio play of the same name. The film stars Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. It follows a bedridden woman, who overhears the plot of murder. While on the telephone, she attempts to help her husband solve the mystery and prevent the crime. Stanwyck was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. It is one of the few pre-1950 Paramount Pictures films, which remained in the studio's library (the rest are currently owned by NBCUniversal).[citation needed]

Radio play

Lucille Fletcher's play originally aired on the Suspense radio program on May 25, 1943, essentially a one-woman show with Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Stevenson, an imperious invalid who accidentally intercepts a phone call between two men plotting a murder for that evening. She tries to enlist the help of the telephone operator, the police, and a hospital, becoming more frantic as the time passes. In the final moments of the play, she realizes that she herself is the intended victim. The play was reprised seven times (on August 21, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1948, 1952, 1957 and 1960). The final broadcast was on February 14, 1960. Orson Welles called Sorry, Wrong Number "the greatest single radio script ever written".[3] In 2015, the broadcast was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry.


Leona Stevenson is a spoiled bedridden daughter of wealthy businessman James Cotterell. She tries to reach her husband, Henry. The servants have the night off and she is alone in the apartment. She overhears two men planning a murder via what seems to be a crossed telephone connection. The call cuts off without Leona learning very much other than it is scheduled for the night, when a passing train hides any sounds. She calls the telephone company and the police, but with a few concrete details, they do nothing.

While finding Henry, Leona inadvertently recalls her past in flashbacks. She learns that the secretary met Henry that day with an attractive woman named Sally Lord and did not return to the office. Leona recognizes the former as Sally Hunt, a college friend who used to be in love with Henry, who at the time was poor and working in a drug store. Leona took Henry from Sally, and married him against her father's wishes. Sally later married Fred Lord, a lawyer in the district attorney's office. From overheard conversations, she learns her husband was near to resolving an investigation about Henry somehow. Sally is concerned she followed her husband and two associates to a mysterious meeting at the abandoned house on Staten Island. The house sign is owned by Waldo Evans, a chemist working for Leona's father. Sally arranged to meet Henry after warning him. He received a phone call, left the table and did not return. Leona concludes the truth that the house has been destroyed, Morano has been arrested by the police and Waldo escaped them.

Leona receives a message from Henry, stating he left the town for work he had forgotten about and he will return on Sunday. Leona visits Dr. Phillip Alexander, the specialist she had come to New York to see regarding her lifelong heart troubles. Alexander reveals that he gave Henry her prognosis ten days ago, something that Henry kept from her. In a flashback, Leona had gone some years without any cardiac episodes, before marrying Henry. Henry learns about her health issues for a few years, when she suffered a cardiac arrest during a quarrel. It becomes clear Leona tries to use Henry, insisting he worked for her father even though he is sadly bored. As their troubles become more severe, Leona became more frequent, until she is bedridden. However, Alexander had the problems as purely psychosomatic; nothing is wrong with her physically, but he thinks she needs psychiatric help.

Leona calls Waldo. He reluctantly discloses that Henry recruited him to steal chemicals from the Cotterell drug company and sell them for Morano. Henry tries to bypass Morano when Waldo was transferred. However, Morano showed up with two thugs and tricks Henry into signing an IOU for $200,000 for his lost profit in three months. When Henry protested he had insufficient money, Morano pointed out that Leona has a large insurance policy. With Morano in custody, Waldo stresses that Henry no longer raises the sum. He gives Leona a number to reach Henry, but when she calls she discovers that it is for the city morgue, Leona phones a nurse at the hospital. The frantic Henry calls the traumatized Leona at the telephone booth, but Leona is killed by an unnamed intruder. Before being arrested, Henry inadvertently calls the killer on the phone and he tells him that he has the wrong number.



Sorry, Wrong Number conforms to many of the conventions of film noir. The film plays in real time with many flashbacks, and adds more characters and backstories. The bedroom window overlooks the night skyline of Manhattan. The film is shot very dark, with looming shadows and a circling camera used to maintain a high level of suspense.[4] Hollywood's Production Code Administration initially objected to elements of Fletcher's screenplay, including its depiction of drug trafficking, and the script was significantly revised to win approval.[5]


Variety listed the film as one of the Top Grossers of the year, earning $2,850,000 in the domestic market alone.[6] Although not as well received as the radio play, with some critics noting the plot is too padded out, the movie adaptation is considered a classic of the film noir genre. Its twist ending is often cited as one of the era's most memorable. Stanwyck's performance was highly acclaimed, and garnered her a fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. On Rottentomatoes the film has a score of 86%.[7]



On October 17, 1948, Stanwyck did a parody of Sorry, Wrong Number on The Jack Benny Program.[13]

Other media

Clips from Sorry, Wrong Number were used for the 1982 comedy-mystery Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, the 1991 thriller Dead Again and the 2014 action-thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

See also


  1. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948". Variety. January 5, 1949. p. 46.
  2. ^ "The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time". Paste. August 9, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  3. ^ "The Hitch-Hiker". The Mercury Summer Theatre of the Air, June 21, 1946, (at 1:00), at the Internet Archive. 1988-02-24. Retrieved 2014-08-04.
  4. ^ Eifert, Steve. Sorry, Wrong Number, film analysis and review, Film Noir of the Week, June 29, 2008. Accessed: July 12, 2013.
  5. ^ Passafiume, Andrea. Turner Classic Movies, Sorry, Wrong Number, film article, "The Big Idea Behind Sorry, Wrong Number". Accessed: July 12, 2013.
  6. ^ Variety (January 1949)
  7. ^ Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), retrieved 2021-05-10
  8. ^ Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 995. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  9. ^ Sorry, Wrong Number (1954) at IMDb.
  10. ^ "Western heroes revolt". The Australian Women's Weekly. Vol. 26, no. 2. Australia. 18 June 1958. p. 13. Retrieved 22 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ "NEW FEATURE FOR 2AD". The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser. No. 3488. New South Wales, Australia. 10 May 1948. p. 2. Retrieved 22 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ Sorry, Wrong Number (1989) at IMDb.
  13. ^ Benny, Jack. The Old Time Radio Network, at the OTR.Network Library web site, December 8, 2011. Accessed: July 12, 2013.

External links

Streaming audio

This page was last edited on 17 May 2022, at 14:04
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