PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER
(director: Jean Negulesco; screenwriters: Nunnally Johnson/from a story by I. A. R. Wylie; cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: Hugh Fowler; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Shelley Winters (Binky Gay), Bette Davis (Marie Hoke), Gary Merrill (David Trask), Michael Rennie (Dr. Fortness), Keenan Wynn (Eddie Hoke), Beatrice Straight (Mrs. Fortness), Ted Donaldson (Jerry Fortness), Warren Stevens (Marty Nelson), Helen Westcott (Jane Trask), Craig Stevens (Mike Carr), Hugh Beaumont (Dr. Brooks), Evelyn Varden (Sally Carr), George Nader (Pilot); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jean Negulesco; Fox Home Entertainment; 1952)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Romanian-born Hollywood filmmaker Jean Negulesco (“Daddy Long Legs”/”How to Marry a Millionaire“/”Boy on a Dolphin“) directs this strained melodrama, that creates characters that don’t seem real. The then husband and wife–Bette Davis andGary Merrill–see this as an opportunity to work together, while Gary stars Bette chooses to take a minor part–which turns out to be the most memorable female part in the pic (which is actually not saying much). Nunnally Johnson bases the second-rate screenplay on the second-rate story by I. A. R. Wylie.
LawyerDavid Trask (Gary Merrill) walks out on unfaithful wife Jane (Helen Westcott) and his two daughters and boards a plane for Los Angeles, without telling wifey his destination. During the flight he becomes close to three strangers who dub themselves “The Four Musketeers,” and when the plane crashes David’s the sole musketeer survivor . When in LA, David dutifully calls on the families of the other three to tell about their flight together.
David first meets Mrs. Fortness (Beatrice Straight), she’s the wife of Dr. Bob Fortness (Michael Rennie). He’s become a guilt-ridden drunk after driving while drunk and killing his passenger Dr. Brooks (Hugh Beaumont) and killing two more in the other car he hit head-on while driving in the wrong lane. To escape conviction, Bob lied and said Dr. Brooks was driving. David tells wifey and distraught son (Ted Donaldson), who never knew the truth, that Dr. Fortness retained him as his lawyer and was going to confess to the LA district attorney to clear up the truth of the incident that happened five years ago. Good Samaritan David then meets the overbearing selfish old vaudeville performer Mrs. Sally Carr (Evelyn Varden), the mother-in-law of struggling showgal Binky Gay (Shelley Winters), in her LA club, and her singer hubby Michael (Craig Stevens), with whom Binky has a rocky relationship that is about to end in a divorce. The flighty Binky never knew that the divorce papers were filed by hubby. The lawyer tries to talk up Binky’s good points and alleviate the animosity her mother-in-law has for his son’s talentless wife. Lastly the lawyer visits the invalid wife, Marie (Bette Davis), of the obnoxious jokester novelty traveling salesman Eddie Hoke (Keenan Wynn). Wifey tells how she ran away from hubby with her lover (Warren Stevens) and became paralyzed over a swimming accident in the lake. Lover boy deserted her, but hubby stood by her side and forgave her indiscretion. Her inspirational story influences David to forgive his wife and return to his family. Thereby by doing a good turn for others, David straightens out his own life.
It’s an inconsequential drama, that has questionable ethics (as far as we know, the name of Dr. Brooks as the accused drunk driver is never cleared) and its story never even makes a plane crash seem like more than a dull affair.
REVIEWED ON 2/9/2011 GRADE: C