Phone Call from a Stranger (1952)

Directed by Jean Negulesco
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner

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.

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Production

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.”

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).

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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

Critical reception

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.”

Time Out London calls it “… a decent, but hardly outstanding dramatic compendium.”

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Absorbing 20th Century Fox melodrama

8/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
28 February 2007

Gary Merrill is the stranger making the phone calls in “Phone Call from a Stranger,” a 1952 film directed by Jean Negulesco and also starring Shelley Winters, Keenan Wynn, Michael Rennie, Beatrice Straight, Craig Stevens and Bette Davis. Unable to forgive his wife for an affair, David Trask gets on a plane, where, due to the plane being late and an unexpected stopover because of bad weather, he becomes friendly with three passengers: a performer (Winters), a salesman (Wynn) and an alcoholic attorney (Rennie) and hears their stories. The salesman seems a happy man with a knockout for a wife; the performer has a horrid mother-in-law, a former vaudeville star with whom she competes, but she loves her husband; and the attorney has resolved to go to the DA and admit responsibility for an accident that happened a few years earlier which has destroyed his marriage. When the plane crashes, Trask is the only survivor of the four. He visits each of the victims’ families to pay his condolences and possibly put some matters right. Then he learns from one of the family members the importance of putting his own life back together.

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This isn’t a particularly big-budget film – it’s in black and white; some of these actors were under contract to Fox; others are not huge names with the exception of Davis. Her role is short but worth the entire film, though all the performances are very good and the stories heartfelt. The attorney’s family story is heavy drama, with the son believing his mother drove his father away. The performer’s family story is the comic relief as the mother-in-law right out of hell gets her comeuppance. And the tear-jerker is the scene with the salesman’s wife. Davis is often criticized for being overblown and mannered, and yet she was always capable of giving a restrained performance as she does here and also did in “All This and Heaven Too” and “Watch on the Rhine.” There are other treats as well. Shelley Winters is pretty and vivacious in a wonderful role for her, Keenan Wynn is excellent as the loud salesman, and as the attorney, Rennie is an appropriately sad and reflective figure. Gary Merrill is very likable as Trask. Though he never really made it to big star status, he was a dependable actor, very handsome and masculine. Of course he and Davis had sparks in “All About Eve” – so much so that they got married in real life – and there’s a nice chemistry between them here as well. It’s nice to see them when they were happy together. They also did a very good British film together, “Another Man’s Poison.” My only complaint is the at times overpowering musical score.

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Very entertaining and highly recommended, especially for Davis fans.

Hy ya Beautiful

7/10
Author: sol1218 from brooklyn NY
28 August 2006

(Slight Spoilers) Leaving his wife and two young daughters attorney David Trask, Gary Merrill,takes a plane to L.A to run away from his family but on the flight meets three passengers who are going back to theirs. Getting to know salesman Eddie Hoke, Keenan Wynn, David is a bit taken by his overly friendly attitude and in your face antics. David as well as the two other passengers that he get’s to know on the flight night-club singer Binky Carr, Shelly Winters, and physician Robert Fortness, Michael Rennie, all form a kind of support group for each other that in the end will turn David’s life around.

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US actress Shelley Winters, who plays the main character in Phone Call from a Stranger by Jean Negulesco, sitting in a plane caressing the face of Gary Merril. USA, 1952.

After his wife Jane, Helen Westott, admitted having an affair with another man David just couldn’t live with her anymore and made the decision to leave her and start a new life on the west coast. With the plane taking off from Vaga Utah after a long delay it ended up crashing in the desert with only three of the 21 passengers surviving one of them being David Trask.

Feeling guilty because he lived while other’s, in David’s opinion, who had much more to live for perished David took it upon himself to contact the families of the three persons who were killed, that he met on the plane, and help them in their grief. As fate would have it it was David more then the families of the crash victims that would be helped by his heart-felt feelings of sympathy for them. David get’s to know the demons that were plaguing Dr. Fortness for some five years. The fact that he and his wife Claire, Betrice Straight, had kept the truth from their teen-age son Jerry, Ted Donaldson, that had led him to almost destroy his life. David also got to know the suffering that show girl Binky Carr was going through with her mother-in-law, Sallie Carr,Evelyn Varden, and how she was out to destroy Binky’s marriage with her husband singer Mike Carr, Craig Stevens.

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Despite the very intense and nerve-wrecking problems that both Dr. Fortness and Binky Carr were going through they both were ready to get back and confront and overcome them unlike David who’s running away from his. David in his own way got to get both Mrs. Fortness and her son Jerry, who was running away from home, together when he told Jerry the truth about his dad. Which his mom didn’t have the heart to do. How his dad was now willing to face the music for the damage that he did but it was his tragic death that has kept that from happening. Jerry realizing the truth that was kept from him all these years now also realized that his mother was really looking after his well being, not ignoring him, and sob-fully came back home this time to stay.

It was the same thing that happened when David came to see Binky’s mother-in-law Sallie and her son, Binky’s husband, Mike who at the time didn’t know that Binky was killed in a plane crash. Unknown to Mrs. Carr Binky was very instrumental in getting Sallie a once in a lifetime role in a major Broadway play that jump started her almost non-existence show biz career.

All this time Sallie thought that Binky was only after her and her son’s money. The fact that she wasn’t and only wanted Sallie to love her like she was her own daughter devastated both her and Mike who later found out not only what happened to Binky but what a heel he was in trying to sere divorce papers on her.

It was really David’s talk with Eddie Hoke’s widow Marie, Bette Davis, that shown him the light and what a great hurt he was doing to both his wife Jane and his two young daughters by leaving them. Marie was a beautiful woman who was also cheating behind Eddie’s back with Marty, Warren Stevens. When Marty left her after she suffered a sever diving accident ,that left Marie paralyzed from the waist down, Eddie never once thought of what Marie did to but came right back to her helping Marie overcome both the psychical and mental trauma that she was going through.

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That last visit with Marie showed David that he was acting against his own, as well as his families, best interests. It was his being influenced by the talkative and somewhat goofy Eddie Hoke on that fateful plane ride that turned his life completely around and for the better. David gets on the phone and frantically calling a very concerned and worried Jane to tell her almost in tears that he’s coming back to stay. You can see the look on Marie’s face, as the movie comes to an end, knowing that her late and wonderful husband Eddie had not only saved her from a life of hurt and depression but David’s as well. Eddie’s jolly honest and good natured conversation together with what she told David about him saved David and his family from the same sorry fate that Marie was once facing, That made David see that there’s no absolutes in life since life like the lives of him and the people that he both met and got to know on the plane is anything but perfect.

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