Sorry, Wrong Number

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Sorry, Wrong Number
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Anatole Litvak
Produced by Anatole Litvak
Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay by Lucille Fletcher
Based on Sorry, Wrong Number
1943 the radio play 
by Lucille Fletcher
Starring Barbara Stanwyck
Burt Lancaster
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Sol Polito
Edited by Warren Low
Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • September 1, 1948 (1948-09-01) (United States)
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2,850,000 (US rentals)[1]

Sorry, Wrong Number is a 1948 American suspense film noir directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster.[2] It tells the story of a woman who overhears a murder plot. The film was adapted by Lucille Fletcher from her 1943 radio play. It is one of the few pre-1950 Paramount Pictures films that remained in the studio's library (the rest are currently owned by Universal).[3]


Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck) is the spoiled, bedridden daughter of wealthy businessman James Cotterell (Ed Begley). One day, while listening to what seems to be a crossed telephone connection, she hears two men planning a woman's murder. The call cuts off without Leona learning very much other than it is scheduled for 11:15, when a passing train will hide any sounds. She calls the telephone company and the police, but with few concrete details, they can do nothing. Complicating matters, her husband Henry (Burt Lancaster) is overdue and their servants have the night off, leaving her all alone in a Manhattan apartment.

As she makes a number of phone calls trying to locate Henry, Leona inadvertently begins to piece together the mystery. The story is told mostly in flashbacks. When Leona reaches Henry's secretary, Elizabeth Jennings (Dorothy Neumann), she learns that he took an attractive Mrs. Lord to lunch and did not return to the office. Mrs. Lord turns out to be the former Sally Hunt (Ann Richards). Leona stole then-drug store employee Henry from Sally, and married him against her father's wishes. Sally is now the wife of Fred Lord (Leif Erickson), a lawyer in the district attorney's office. From overheard conversations, she learned that her husband was close to resolving an investigation that involves Henry somehow. Sally became so concerned that she followed her husband and two associates to a mysterious meeting in a seemingly abandoned house on Staten Island. The house, according to a "no trespassing" sign, belongs to a W. Evans. Sally arranged to meet Henry for lunch, but before she could warn him, he left the table and did not return. Later, Sally calls Leona with more news. The house on Staten Island has burned down, and three men, including someone named Morano (William Conrad), have been arrested. Waldo Evans (Harold Vermilyea), however, has escaped.

Leona then receives a message from Henry stating he has gone out of town on business he had forgotten about and will not be back until Sunday.

Leona next gets in touch with Dr. Alexander (Wendell Corey), a specialist she had come to New York to see regarding her lifelong heart troubles. Alexander reveals that he gave Henry his prognosis ten days before, something that Henry kept from her. Henry had married Leona without being aware of her health problems. He first found out when she had a heart attack after they quarreled about his attempt to get a job on his own, rather than being a do-nothing vice president in his father-in-law's business. (James Cotterell, however, sabotaged his job interview.) Her attacks became more and more frequent, until she finally took to her bed about a year ago. Alexander, however, diagnosed Leona's problems as purely psychosomatic; there is nothing wrong with her physically.

Then Leona receives a telephone call from Waldo Evans, a chemist working for her father. He reluctantly discloses that Henry recruited him to steal valuable chemicals from the Cotterell drug company to sell to Morano. Later, Henry decided to bypass Morano when Evans was transferred to the New Jersey plant. Morano, however, showed up with two thugs and intimidated Henry into signing an IOU for $200,000 for his lost profits, due in three months. When Henry protested that he did not have that much money, Morano pointed out that Leona must have a large insurance policy. However, with Morano now in custody, Evans stresses that Henry no longer has to raise the now-overdue sum.

When Henry finally calls from a train station, Leona gives him Evans' message. Seeing that it is only minutes from 11:15, he pleads with her to go to the balcony and scream for help, but she protests that she cannot, even though she can hear somebody downstairs. When the intruder enters her bedroom, she begs for her life, then screams. The intruder strangles and kills Leona. Unaware of the policemen about to apprehend him, Henry frantically calls back, only to have a man answer, "Sorry, wrong number."



Sorry, Wrong Number conforms to many of the conventions of film noir. The movie plays in real time, with many flashbacks to flesh out the story. Stanwyck's 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]


For her role, Stanwyck was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Radio play[edit]

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. The play was reprised seven times, each starring Moorehead. The final broadcast was on February 14, 1960.

Orson Welles called Sorry, Wrong Number "the greatest single radio script ever written".[6]

In 2015, the May 25, 1943 broadcast was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry.


Other media[edit]

Clips from Sorry, Wrong Number were featured in the 1991 thriller Dead Again and the 2014 action-thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Both films were directed by Kenneth Branagh.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  2. ^ "The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time". Paste. August 9, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015. 
  3. ^ Sorry, Wrong Number at the Internet Movie Database.
  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. ^ "The Hitch-Hiker". The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air, June 21, 1946, (at 1:00), at the Internet Archive. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  7. ^ Sorry, Wrong Number at the Internet Movie Database.
  8. ^ Sorry, Wrong Number at the Internet Movie Database.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Sorry, Wrong Number at the Internet Movie Database.
  11. ^ Benny, Jack. The Old Time Radio Network, at the OTR.Network Library web site, December 8, 2011. Accessed: July 12, 2013.

External links[edit]

Streaming audio[edit]