SORRY, WRONG NUMBER

★★★

AN INVENTIVE SLICE OF 1940s FILM NOIR

BLU-RAY REVIEW
By Daniel Lammin
27th May 2020

This week, we're taking a look at some of the first titles from Imprint Films, a new premium-label Blu-ray series from Via Vision Entertainment, featuring world-first releases of classic films. Each month, new titles are added to the collection, featuring new transfers, exclusive special features and more, and the first 1500 units come with a beautifully designed slipcase. As far as boutique home entertainment releases go, Imprint is already proving a welcome addition for Australian audiences.

Our next title is a healthy slice of 1940s film noir with the world-first Blu-ray release of 'Sorry, Wrong Number'.

Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck, 'Double Indemnity'), confined to her bed from a heart condition, is waiting for her husband Henry (Burt Lancaster, 'From Here To Eternity') to return from work. When she tries to call his office, the operator accidentally connects her to the wrong call, where she hears two men conspiring to commit murder that very night. Over the course of the evening, and a number of increasingly desperate phone calls, Leona begins to suspect that her husband may be tied up in something sinister, and that the threat to murder may be much closer to home than she thought.

'Sorry, Wrong Number' is based on the wildly successful 1943 radio play by Lucille Fletcher, who also wrote the screen adaptation, and the very specific tropes of radio drama make this an equally thrilling and frustrating film adaptation. The continual device of the telephone as a means of exposition does start to become tedious in repetition, especially as telephones become a recurrent visual symbol without any deeper dramaturgical meaning, but Fletcher's use of them in a radio context is incredibly clever, and director Anatole Litvak rises to the challenge of making this as visually interesting a film as it is aurally inventive. The camera is constantly in motion, giving the sense that all of the characters - especially Leona - are constantly being watched and that there is always a threat present, even if the characters aren't aware of it. Fletcher beautifully expands the scope of the story, making for one that feels episodic but not distractingly so. Leona, as well as the protagonist, is also the audience; a recipient of stories down the phone line that, when put together, paint a very different picture of her husband, her marriage and even her understanding of herself. 'Sorry, Wrong Number' taps into that sense of the post-war inadequacy of the American dream. Leona and Henry, though married, are separated by an enormous class divide. One sees work and defining one's living as a matter of pride, while the other clutches on to their sense of privilege as hard as they can. It's the collision of these two ideals that forms the central tension of the film, and the divide is so great that reconciliation can only come too late.

SWITCH: 'SORRY, WRONG NUMBER' TRAILER

While Stanwyck is as arresting as you would expect (her performance earning her an Oscar nomination), Lancaster never finds a comfortable spot for himself in the film, often feeling out of place. Then again, that does benefit Henry as a character, so it never feels too distracting. It's the supporting cast that really shines in the film, especially Ann Richards as Henry's old flame Sally and Harold Vermilyea as Henry's mild-mannered accomplice Waldo Evans. The plot of 'Sorry, Wrong Number' does demand that you pay attention, constantly moving backwards and forwards in time and even featuring flashbacks within flashbacks, but Litvak finds his way through it and there's a degree of satisfaction for the viewer at seeing all the pieces fall into place.

'Sorry, Wrong Number' isn't a film that leaves a strong lasting impression, but its narrative and visual inventiveness and a thoroughly engaging plot make it an enjoyable journey into 40s film noir. If anything, you leave it with a great appreciation for Lucille Fletcher's devilishly simple premise, one that certainly isn't dulled by the transition from radio to cinema.

PICTURE & SOUND
The 1080p 1.37:1 transfer for 'Sorry, Wrong Number' fares a touch better than the transfer for 'I Married A Monster From Outer Space', but it still has its issues. The special features reference a Digital HD release of the film, which I suspect is the source for this transfer, and while it's clear that Paramount has done some restoration work, it's not a lot. There's a good level of detail in the image, but it's also clear that a DNR pass has been taken, giving the film an artificial look at points. The blacks also appear crushed, and the image is often in need of stabilisation. The LPCM 2.0 Dual Mono track could also do with a stronger restoration, with dialogue often muddied and hard to follow. As with 'I Married...', this is hardly the fault of Imprint, who are only able to deal with what transfer they are given and do not have the infrastructure to restore the film themselves. The fact they have taken the time to release the film on Blu-ray at all, and in such a handsome package, is already a win for fans of the film.

'Sorry, Wrong Number' taps into that sense of the post-war inadequacy of the American dream.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Imprint have ensured that 'Sorry, Wrong Number' comes with a robust collection of extras, all of which add context to the film. The disc comes with an exclusive commentary track from noir expert Alan K. Rode, who provides some terrific background information on the film and its place within the genre. The rest of the package is, I suspect, from the Digital HD release, and includes an introduction from historian Eddie Muller (2:31), history and analysis in 'Hold The Phone: The Making of Sorry, Wrong Number' (31:24), audio from a classic radio broadcast of the script for Lux Radio Theatre in January 1950, featuring Stanwyck and Lancaster (59:40), and a filmed live performance of Lucille Fletcher's original radio play, performed at Shadowland Theatre in 2009 (28:38). The disc also includes a theatrical trailer (2:37), a gallery of publicity stills (2:50) and a trailer for the first wave of Imprint titles.

As with 'I Married A Monster...', the disc comes in a handsomely designed and sturdy slipcover, with the original poster artwork on the front and alternate artwork on the enclosed case.

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