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Saturday, March 12, 2011

PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER (1952)

This ultra-smooth portmanteau pic is a pluperfect example of how to adapt Women’s Magazine Fiction to the big screen. Scripter Nunnally Johnson uses a gimmick to pull off his story structure, but it’s a great gimmick. Waiting out a flight delay on their way to L.A., four passengers, strangers in the night, share a brief, passing intimacy: a doctor with a secret past; a coarse novelty salesman with a million bad gags; a showgirl returning home after not cracking B’way; and a lawyer who’s fleeing the wife he can no longer trust. The Gimmick: the plane goes down and the sole survivor troops off to sequentially clean up all the unfinished business. Everybody’s near their best here: Gary Merrill & Michael Rennie are sympathetic & manly; Kennan Wynn is broadly annoying (priming the pump for his big transformation); Bette Davis, in a showy supporting role (Merrill was her hubby at the time), plays maudlin martyr . . . and triumphs; best of all, there’s Shelly Winters, intensely likable & dishy. Nunnally Johnson’s script is tougher & funnier than you expect in the genre as is Jean Negulesco’s clever, efficient helming. Dig those nifty transitions he & lenser Milton Krasner cooked up: fade-to-white dissolves for the straight storytelling flashbacks & reverse negative dissolves for the fibs. For once, the Fox trailer got it right, if you liked LETTER TO THREE WIVES/’49 or ALL ABOUT EVE/’50, you’ll probably like this more sentimental number.

CONTEST: Connect this film to Frank Capra’s IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT/’34 to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of the NetFlix DVD of your choice.

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