In our house the last couple days of the month means scavenging the Criterion Channel’s scraps. Don’t get me wrong, it’s much more like the moonlit spaghetti dinner in Lady and the Tramp than the meat truck in Tiger King. It’s nevertheless content that’s about to expire. There’s a lot of great movies leaving the channel this month but we decided on Sorry, Wrong Number for March 2020’s penultimate day.
If you’ve been reading along you’ll know we’ve been watching a lot of Hitchcock films. His movies are characterized as innovative suspenseful thrillers with meticulously crafted cinematography. Some of them even have different plots. One of his most famous films is Rear Window, the story of a photographer whose broken leg confines him to his apartment for the film’s duration. There, he keeps himself entertained by observing the lives of the neighbors he can see outside his apartment window. Eventually he believes he’s witnessed a murder and his sense of security is shattered. Anatole Litvak’s Sorry, Wrong Number (based on Lucille Fletcher’s radio play) premiered six years earlier than Rear Window with an extremely similar premise. What was that Picasso said about great artists?
Sorry, Wrong Number is the story of an invalid heiress who inadvertently discovers her sugar baby husband’s mixed up in a nefarious racket that’s put her life in danger. That’s an hour and a half distilled into one sentence. What makes this plot so unique is she uncovers the criminal plot through a series of telephone calls all while confined to her bed. I imagine it’s a lot like Phone Booth or Buried, two movies I haven’t seen but understand they’re stories about people stuck in one place with only a phone. Man, calling a movie unique and then citing two movies you assume have the same plots kind of undercuts your point doesn’t it? Nah, cause I further assume neither of those movies are film noir masterpieces.
Sorry, Wrong Number is full of classic film noir tropes. Men wearing long coats and fedoras standing in the rain, criminal mystery and threatening shadows. It’s also incredibly suspenseful and, sometimes over acted, but that isn’t out of place in this genre. Like Saboteur, Sorry, Wrong Number seems to me to be the kind of movie a younger Hitchcock strove to make. I can see him now, sitting immobilized in a theater, tortured by seeing someone else get away with murder on the 30 foot rear window.