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A Murder Mystery Milestone,
This review is from: Sorry, Wrong Number (DVD)
Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster were two of the most dynamic stars in Hollywood history and together they generated fireworks in "Sorry, Wrong Number." Anatole Litvak directed this mystery classic along with "Snake Pit" and both were released in 1948. Both "Sorry, Wrong Number" and "Snake Pit" deal with psychiatric problems, a major winner during the period following Alfred Hitchcock's success in "Spellbound" three years earlier.
Based on a radio drama, the film revolves around Stanwyck overhearing a party line conversation concerning what she soon realizes is a plan to murder her that evening. The bed ridden woman then frantically pieces together all the information she can about the planned event. She becomes overwhelmed when she realizes that Lancaster, who is conveniently away on business, is part of the mix.
A surprise that emerges during all the investigation, which involves convincingly applied flashbacks, is Stanwyck's physical condition. She refers to herself as an invalid and lives the part, but Wendell Corey in the role of a doctor consulted by Lancaster reveals that Stanwyck's problems are psychological rather than physiological as her periodic "attacks" occur whenever her husband challenges the status quo.
The plight into which Stanwyck ultimately descends results from her strong-willed and spoiled manner as a young woman who sees Lancaster and plucks him from the arms of a woman from his own station in life who loves him. Her father, played by Ed Begley, is a Chicago pharmaceutical giant who initially balks over her intention to marry a man from a poor family who has lived his entire life in a small town and is a high school dropout. The unrelenting Stanwyck is used to getting her way and it proves to her ultimate disadvantage with Lancaster.
Some reviewers criticized the film by stating that Lancaster, a he man type, was miscast as someone who is pigeonholed by a rich woman and put in a showcase vice president's job working under her father with few responsibilities other than satisfying her. They missed the point of recognizing that the film's dramatic tension springs from the conflict within Lancaster, who is too strong and independent to function as a "toy boy" for a spoiled rich woman. Eventually he tells her, "I've learned to like this life but on my own terms." Stanwyck is then confronted with a monster of her own creation.
When Lancaster turns against Stanwyck it is with a vengeance as he convinces a chemist to unite with him to make money by siphoning off some of the company's drug supply and selling it to the mob for a huge profit. William Conrad plays the part of the mob boss with stern conviction.
The clock ultimately winds down for Lancaster as well as Stanwyck as they both become enmeshed in complicated mob machinations.