Thursday, August 5, 2010

Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number

The so-called "best actress never to win an Oscar", Barbara Stanwyck received her fourth and final Best Actress nomination for playing Leona Stevenson, a terrified, bossy and bedridden woman who overhears the plans of her own destruction accidentally in the chilling thriller, Sorry, Wrong Number. I read somewhere that Irene Dunne was expected to win an overdue Oscar and with the heavily awarded performances of Jane Wyman and Olivia de Havilland, Barbara Stanwyck did not have much chance to win. I guess she was the fourth or maybe third, because she might have received some votes as she was Oscarless.

Sorry, Wrong Number is an excellently directed and brilliantly acted thriller, which is full of suspense, thoughts and great dialogue. In my opinion this Anatole Litvak movie deserved the Best Picture and Director nomination way more than The Snake Pit, but I guess it was considered brave at the time. No matter what, Sorry, Wrong Number is still a very enjoyable and a bit light entertainment with a very surprising ending (at least I did not expect it). Burt Lancaster gives a very good performance (he tends to either annoy the hell out of me or make me speechless, now it's neither) and the other members of the cast too, but again this is a typical example of a movie focusing on a superstar. Or is it?

No actually, it isn't. This movie definitely doesn't focus on Barbara Stanwyck, it's more of an ensemble piece (Stanwyck does not have much screentime at all), where she stands out as she's the one holding the story together. We feel that the movie focuses on her because she has such a heavy and substantial presence that everyone plaes in comparision with her. In fact, I was always wanting more Barbara when she was off-screen for she was a treat to watch throughout the entire film.

In the very first scene we see a typical rich and big-faced bitch, lying on the bed, sweating and being annoyed that she's not able to call her husband. She overhears the plans of killing a woman (who happens to be her) and after that she insists on saving that poor person. Stanwyck brilliantly shows how stubborn and demanding Leona (that's her name) is. She does not care about the life of that other person that much, but when she decided to do something, she doesn't put up with the refusal. We see that she always got what she wanted from her rich daddy and she got herself a poor, but charismatic young man.

Leona as I said is a total bitch, which can be very enjoyable for a lot of people in movies (personally I'm not a huge fan of it) and here Stanwyck certainly is. This character is very different from her femme fatale character from Double Indemnity. She does not want everything, she HAS everything. Actually she doesn't know the term want for exactly when she looks at something, she gets it.

Stanwyck gets to show lots of emotions throughout her film: anger, anxiety, excitment, desperation, love, hate and most of all fear. Sometimes she's almost unbearable to watch as you want to help her despite the fact that she's an awful person. Stanwyck's biggest achievement was that she was able to make me care about Leona's life without liking her a bit. No, in fact she even made me hate her and yet feel sorry for her. Stanwyck's playing with these ambivalent emotions is almost breathtaking and very dangerous for her. She's always on the edge of losing all the effect, but she marvellously kept the balance. Another potential trap of the movie was the psychological storyline, which she handled flawlessly, though she mostly concentrated on the suspense part.

Not to mention the unbearable the tension and suspense of the last 8-10 minutes of the movie when her killer approaches her. Her acting there is so real and so suspenseful that it made me speechless. Stanwyck marvellously went from point A to B with her character, whose development is excellent AND believable plus her extremely strong presence constantly amazed me. She always left me wanting more of her (I mean this a very positive way) and the movie really lived when she was on-screen.

So, to sum up, I can say how pleasantly surprised I was as this was the performance I did not really expect that much from. I can honestly say that I was very-very impressed and that I saw one of Stanwyck's finest works, which completely grabbed my attention from start to finish mainly caused by Stanwyck's dexterity with emotions. A fascinating character study.
So comments, predictions anyone? To watch Sorry, Wrong Number click here.


Fritz said...

Wow. I don't want to give too much away but I have pretty much the complete opposite opinion.

Louis Morgan said...

I thought this year might be unpredictable and I was right.

1. Barbra Stanwyck
2. Jane Wyman
3. Ingrid Bergman
4. Olivia De Havilland
5. Irene Dunne

joe burns said...

I think she has a good shot at being your choice.

dinasztie said...

Fritz: I can only say to each his own. :)

Louis: I also expected that it would be very unpredictable. I myself imagined the ranking something like this:
1. de Havilland
2. Wyman
3. Dunne
4. Bergman
5. Stanwyck

Joe: So far, so far... :) There are 2 other performances left.