Watch It Now!
Before Fox Films finds out it's there.
Phone Call from a Stranger (1952)
A film like this makes you wonder how commercial air travel ever got off the ground, so to speak. I mean, it was nice that you could smoke (or second-hand smoke anyway) the entire trip to stave off nerves, but in those early days the bus may have been a surer thing. Greyhound certainly seems to have been the service model for the air carrier in this picture.
Phone Call from a Stranger begins with attorney David Trask (Gary Merrill) in the process of leaving the wife who cheated on him. She regrets the affair, but he can't move past it, so he decides to hop a plane and start fresh in Los Angeles -- kids, schmids. At the airport Trask meets up with three other people with big problems: alcoholic doctor, Robert Fortness (Michael Rennie), would-be musical actress, Binky Gay (Shelley Winters); and Eddie Hoke (Keenan Wynn), obnoxious traveling novelties salesmen.
The plane, however, is a local (which I guess was a Thing in those early days) and keeps running into delays. Trask and his new acquaintances get to talking and we get some juicy backstory on each, which comes in handy later. Binky latches onto Trask because it's her first flight ever and she tells her story out of sheer nervousness: that she is going home to her husband after trying and failing to make it on Broadway, but is afraid her battle-ax of a mother-in-law, a former Vaudeville star (Evelyn Varden), is going to be horrible and make her life miserable. She is not wrong to be concerned.
Upon finding out Trask is a lawyer, Dr. Fortness seeks advice on how to turn himself in to the District Attorney on account of five years before, he drove drunk and caused an accident that killed his colleague (uncredited Hugh Beaumont) then pinned the blame on his dead friend. Fortness's wife (Beatrice Straight) lied to protect him, but their marriage has suffered ever since and he now wants to put things right.
Eddie is just a pain in the ass, what with the nose-glasses, joy-buzzer, and cheesecake picture of Bette Davis c. 1932 that he keeps showing around and claiming is his wife (as IF). But he is the one who insists that the four of them (whom he nicknames The Four Musketeers) exchange contact information so they can get together in years to come and recall this crazy, mixed-up trip.
This is why, when the plane crashes and kills three of the Four Musketeers, David Trask is able to contact each of his traveling companions' survivors to share something important with each of them. The exercise is cathartic for him, particularly after talking with Hoke's wife, who turns out to be actual Better Davis, c. 1952 though, and paralyzed from the waist down. It should be noted that Bette Davis was married to Gary Merrill at the time this picture was made and their scene together is breathtakingly uninteresting.
Nutshell: I don't consider this to be a particularly memorable movie, but three performances make it worth seeing:
Sadly, the remaining characters and portrayals are less sympathetic. Michael Rennie is wooden and forgettable, as per yoozh, and I'm sorry, but I've never cared for Gary Merrill at all. Who knows what Bette Davis was trying to do with that wise invalid schtick, and I found the eternally regretful sob in Mrs. Trask's voice enough to hop on a doomed plane myself. There is a surprise in Beatrice Straight, but only because I'd forgotten she was in the picture and otherwise think she's wonderful. She did what she could.
That said, you may as well give Phone Call from a Stranger a whirl since it's available in its entirety on YouTube. Click while you can!
This post is my contribution to the CMBA Fall Blogathon: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, sponsored by the Classic Movie Blog Association.
So many great entries on this fun theme, but don't take my word for it: Go read and enjoy!
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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