Sorry, Wrong Number

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Sorry, Wrong Number
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnatole Litvak
Produced byAnatole Litvak
Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay byLucille Fletcher
Based onSorry, Wrong Number
1943 the radio play
by Lucille Fletcher
StarringBarbara Stanwyck
Burt Lancaster
Ann Richards
Wendell Corey
Music byFranz Waxman
CinematographySol Polito
Edited byWarren Low
Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 1, 1948 (1948-09-01)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,850,000 (US rentals)[1]

Sorry, Wrong Number is a 1948 American thriller 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. Stanwyck was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

It is one of the few pre-1950 Paramount Pictures films that remained in the studio's library (the rest are currently owned by NBCUniversal).[citation needed]


Leona Stevenson is the spoiled, bedridden daughter of wealthy businessman James Cotterell. 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 11:15pm, 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 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 in flashbacks. When Leona reaches Henry's secretary, Elizabeth Jennings, she learns that he took an attractive woman, Sally Lord, to lunch and did not return to the office. Sally Lord turns out to be the former Sally Hunt. 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, 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 Waldo Evans, a chemist working for her father. 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 one named Morano have been arrested. Evans, 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. Phillip Alexander, a specialist she had come to New York to see regarding her lifelong heart troubles. Alexander reveals that he gave Henry her 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. Cotterell sabotaged his job interview.

Leona's 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; nothing is wrong with her physically. Leona goes into hysterics and phones a hospital, asking to hire a nurse for the night. The receptionist tells her that they are short-staffed and she can only have a nurse if the doctor feels it is an emergency. She thinks it is only 11:00 pm, but discovers her clock has stopped.

Leona receives a telephone call from Waldo. He reluctantly discloses that Henry recruited him to steal chemicals from the Cotterell drug company to sell to Morano. Later, Henry decided to bypass Morano when Waldo was transferred. 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, Morano pointed out that Leona must have a large insurance policy.

With Morano now in custody, Waldo stresses that Henry no longer has to raise the sum. Waldo gives Leona a number to call to locate Henry, but when she calls she discovers that it is for the city morgue.

When Henry calls her from a train station, Leona gives him Waldo's 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, though she can hear somebody downstairs. When the intruder enters her bedroom, she begs for her life, then screams. 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.[3]

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.[4]


Variety listed the film as one of the Top Grossers of the year, earning $2,850,000 in the domestic market alone.[5]

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 (on August 21, 1943, then in 1944, 1945, 1948, 1952, 1957 and 1960), 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.



On October 17, 1948, Stanwyck did a parody of Sorry, Wrong Number on The Jack Benny Program.[13]

Other media[edit]

Clips from Sorry, Wrong Number were used for the 1982 comedy-mystery Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, the 1991 thriller Dead Again and the 2014 action-thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

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. ^ Eifert, Steve. Sorry, Wrong Number, film analysis and review, Film Noir of the Week, June 29, 2008. Accessed: July 12, 2013.
  4. ^ Passafiume, Andrea. Turner Classic Movies, Sorry, Wrong Number, film article, "The Big Idea Behind Sorry, Wrong Number". Accessed: July 12, 2013.
  5. ^ Variety (January 1949)
  6. ^ "The Hitch-Hiker". The Mercury Summer Theatre of the Air, June 21, 1946, (at 1:00), at the Internet Archive. 1988-02-24. Retrieved 2014-08-04.
  7. ^ Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 995. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  8. ^ Sorry, Wrong Number (1954) on IMDb.
  9. ^ "Western heroes revolt". The Australian Women's Weekly. 26 (2). Australia, Australia. 18 June 1958. p. 13. Retrieved 22 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ "NEW FEATURE FOR 2AD". The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser (3488). New South Wales, Australia. 10 May 1948. p. 2. Retrieved 22 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ Vagg, Stephen (February 18, 2019). "60 Australian TV Plays of the 1950s & '60s". Filmink.
  12. ^ Sorry, Wrong Number (1989) on IMDb.
  13. ^ 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]