We’re back in 1950s London for this brisk thriller from Merton Park Studios. When elderly Miss Crystal dials a wrong number and gets a young woman waiting to speak to ‘Angelo’, she’s stumbled on the aftermath of a robbery gone wrong. The next day, the local papers all carry the story of the mail van driver whose dying word was: ‘Angelo’. Miss Crystal remembers the name- can she remember the number?
Wrong Number doesn’t hang about- mainly because it’s a second feature- but the spare, procedural storytelling uses the short running time to great effect. In fact, if there is one criticism, it’s that it could actually have done with another five minutes to give the ending just a little more tension.
Merton Park (was there anywhere in London that didn’t have a studio back then?) seems to have cornered the market in honest, no-nonsense portrayals of life on the fringes of the metropolis. Wrong Number takes place in bedsit-land, its most respectable character being a local doctor who also happens to be the head of the gang that commit the robbery. Dr. Pole is not a nice man, either: he frequently propositions, and at one point looks like he’s going to rape, Angelo’s girlfriend Maria. Why he’s consorting with the gang is unclear and his frustration with them is evident, so the fact that they’ve killed a man just adds fuel to an already-simmering flame of exasperation. This isn’t some ‘cor blimey, guv’nor’, ‘people-calling-each-other-silly-baskets’ view of life in the postwar urban sprawl: it’s decrepit and desperate and not very nice. And that’s before the killing. At the outset, Pole has to remind Angelo that the gun is there to deter any heroics. There aren’t any, but it still gets used…
Director Vernon Sewell was well versed in the mechanics of the B-movie (the BFI described Sewell’s work as ‘above the usual cut-price standards of film-making at this level’). And it’s tense. When Miss Crystal rings Maria, the atmosphere at the robbers’ hideout could be cut with a knife. That’s not just because of the robbery: the call has stopped Pole’s advances towards Maria at just the right time. The usual ‘rep’ of dependable character actors turns in decent performances. There are faces that fans of old TV and films will recognise, notably John Horsley as Inspector Blake, best known as Doc Morrissey in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. There’s also Paul Whitsun-Jones (Quatermass), Harold Goodwin and Lisa Gastoni, who would go on to find greater fame in her native Italy. Special mention, too, for Olive Sloane’s entertainingly dotty turn as Miss Crystal. Actually, nobody phones their performance in.
Sorry. Couldn’t resist it.