Phone Call from a Stranger

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Phone Call from a Stranger
Original poster
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Produced by Nunnally Johnson
Written by Nunnally Johnson
I. A. R. Wylie
Starring Gary Merrill
Shelley Winters
Michael Rennie
Keenan Wynn
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Edited by Hugh S. Fowler
Distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox
Release date
  • February 1, 1952 (1952-02-01)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,350,000 (US rentals)[1]

Phone Call from a Stranger is a 1952 American drama film directed by Jean Negulesco, who was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The screenplay by Nunnally Johnson and I.A.R. Wylie, which received the award for Best Scenario at the same festival, centers on the survivor of an aircraft crash who contacts the relatives of three of the victims he came to know on board the flight. The story features via flashbacks that accentuate the character's past lives.


After his wife Jane (Helen Westcott) admits to an extramarital affair, Iowa attorney David Trask (Gary Merrill) abandons her and their daughters and heads for Los Angeles. His flight is delayed, and while waiting in the airport restaurant he meets a few of his fellow passengers. Troubled, alcoholic Dr. Robert Fortness (Michael Rennie), haunted by his responsibility for a car accident in which a colleague, Dr. Tim Brooks (Hugh Beaumont) was killed, is returning home to his wife Claire (Beatrice Straight) and teenage son Jerry (Ted Donaldson), and plans to tell the district attorney the truth about the accident.

Aspiring actress Binky Gay (Shelley Winters) is hoping to free her husband Mike Carr (Craig Stevens) from the clutches of his domineering mother, former vaudevillian Sally Carr (Evelyn Varden), who looks down on Binky. Overly loud traveling salesman Eddie Hoke (Keenan Wynn) shares a photograph of his young, attractive wife Marie (Bette Davis) wearing a swimsuit. When a storm forces the aircraft to land en route, they continue to share their life stories during the unexpected four-hour layover. They exchange home phone numbers with the idea that they may one day have a reunion.

Upon resuming their journey, the aircraft crashes and Trask is one of a handful of survivors; most of the passengers and crew are killed, including Trask's three acquaintances. Trask contacts their families by phone and invites himself to their homes. Despite Claire's objections, Trask tells Jerry the truth about his father's past, but assures him that his father was a good man determined to right the wrong he had committed. Hoping to change Sally's opinion of her late daughter-in-law, he tells her Binky had been cast as Mary Martin's replacement in South Pacific on Broadway and had recommended Sally for a role.

Trask's final visit is to Marie, who he discovers is not the beautiful girl of Eddie's photograph, but an invalid paralyzed from the waist down. Marie reveals that early in her marriage she had left Eddie, whom she found to be vulgar and tiresome, for another man, Marty Nelson (Warren Stevens), who deserted her after she hit her head on a dock while she was swimming. While in the hospital, she was confined to an iron lung and feeling hopeless about her future when Eddie arrived to take her home. Marie tells Trask that despite his often obnoxious behavior, Eddie was the most decent man she had ever known, and had taught her the true meaning of love.

Marie's story teaches Trask a lesson about marital infidelity and forgiveness, and he calls Jane to tell her he's returning home.



When Gary Merrill's wife Bette Davis read the script, she suggested he ask director Negulesco if she could play the relatively small role of Marie Hoke, feeling "it would be a change of pace for me. I believed in the part more than its length. I have never understood why stars should object to playing smaller parts if they were good ones. Marie Hoke was such a part."[2]

Phone Call from a Stranger was the third on-screen pairing of Merrill and Davis, following All About Eve (1950) and Another Man's Poison (1951).

Producer-screenwriter Johnson originally wanted to cast Lauren Bacall as Binky Gay, but she was unavailable.

Broadway actress Beatrice Straight made her screen debut in this film.

Footage from Phone Call from a Stranger featuring Merrill and Davis was integrated with new material performed by Merrill and Jesse White as Eddie Hoke in Crack Up, an hour-long television adaptation broadcast on the CBS anthology series The 20th Century Fox Hour in February 1956.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

In his review for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther said, "So slick, indeed, is the whole thing — so smooth and efficiently contrived to fit and run with the precision of a beautifully made machine — that it very soon gives the impression of being wholly mechanical, picked up from a story-teller's blueprints rather than from the scroll of life . . . that is the nature of the picture — mechanically intriguing but unreal."[4]

Time Out London calls it "... a decent, but hardly outstanding dramatic compendium." [5]

Radio adaptation[edit]

Merrill and Winters reprised their roles for a Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story on January 5, 1953.[6]



  1. ^ "Top Box-Office Hits of 1952." Variety, January 7, 1953.
  2. ^ Stine 1974, p. 243.
  3. ^ "Overview: 'Phone Call from a Stranger'." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 1, 2016.
  4. ^ Crowther, Boasley. "Movie review: 'Phone Call From a Stranger' (1952); Nunnally Johnson movie, opens at Roxy Theatre." The New York Times, February 2, 1952. Retrieved: January 1, 2015.
  5. ^ "Review: 'Phone Call from a Stranger'." Time Out London. Retrieved: January 1, 2016.
  6. ^ Kirby, Walter. "Better radio programs for the week." The Decatur Daily Review via, January 4, 1953, p. 38. Retrieved: June 19, 2015. open access publication – free to read


External links[edit]