Cast & Crew
Late one night, Iowa lawyer David Trask leaves his wife Jane, who has recently confessed to having a brief affair, and buys an airplane ticket for Los Angeles. When the plane is delayed, Trask sits in the airport restaurant, where he is joined by three strangers: actress Binky Gay, whose real name is Bianca Carr; Dr. Bob Fortness; and traveling salesman Eddie Hoke. Trask and Fortness attempt to calm Binky, who is nervous about her first flight, and all three are irritated by Eddie's loud, crude behavior. The plane finally takes off, but a heavy storm forces them to land at a small airport in Vega. Four hours later, the foursome have become friendly, and Eddie, who has dubbed them "The Four Musketeers," suggests that they have a reunion someday. Trask, who does not know where he will be staying, takes down the addresses of the others and promises to get in touch. After Eddie shows them a photograph of his wife, a beautiful, young woman in a bathing suit, Trask and Fortness go outside, where Fortness hires Trask as his attorney and reveals that he is returning to Los Angeles to confess to his part in a five-year-old crime. Fortness describes how he and a fellow doctor were summoned from dinner to the hospital, and during the drive, the drunken Fortness collided with another automobile. Everyone except Fortness was killed, and when the police questioned him, he claimed that his friend was driving. Fortness' wife Claire lied to protect him, but their marriage has foundered ever since. Hoping to restore Claire's respect for him, Fortness plans to tell all to the district attorney. The passengers then re-board the plane, and during the journey, Binky tells Trask that her mother-in-law, vaudevillian Sally Carr, was so demanding and judgmental that Binky left her husband Mike, even though she loved him, to establish her own career in New York. Binky states that after a year of failure and loneliness, during which she worked as a stripper, she has now decided to return to Mike and learn to ignore Sally's jibes. The plane suddenly crashes, however, and Trask is one of the few survivors. In his Los Angeles hotel room, Trask decides to contact the family members of his three companions, and begins with Claire. Claire is at first happy to see Trask, but soon breaks down and admits that her teenage son Jerry, who idolized his father, blames her for his death and has run away. Remembering Fortness' musings about traveling with Jerry, Trask locates the boy at a pier and returns him to his mother. Despite Claire's objections, Trask tells Jerry the truth about his father, and that he was a good man because he wanted to right the wrong he had committed. Having forgiven his mother, Jerry sobs in her arms as Trask leaves. Trask next visits the seedy nightclub run by Sally Carr, where both she and Mike perform. When Trask meets the caustic Sally, who announces that Mike had just filed for divorce from Binky, Trask lies, telling her that Binky has been cast as Mary Martin's replacement in the Broadway production of South Pacific , and that she recommended Sally for an important role. Sally is suitably ashamed of her harsh treatment of Binky, and Mike, who has received a telegram about his wife's death, is relieved to learn from Trask that Binky did not know about the divorce. Later, Trask visits Eddie's wife Marie, and is startled to find that she is an invalid, paralyzed from the waist down. Marie laughs, knowing that Eddie must have shown Trask the old bathing beauty photograph of her, then shocks him by describing her late husband as vulgar and tiresome. Marie relates how, early in her marriage, she grew tired of Eddie and left him for another man, Marty Nelson. Marie and Marty drove cross-country to Chicago, and during their journey, Marie hit her head on a floating dock when they stopped to go swimming. Several days after her accident, Marie became paralyzed and Marty deserted her. In the hospital, Marie was confined to an iron lung and was despairing about her future when the still-loving Eddie arrived and greeted her with a heartfelt "Hi, Beautiful." Marie then tells Trask that despite how he appeared to others, Eddie was the most generous, decent man she had ever known, and that he taught her the true nature of love. When Marie questions Trask about his wife's infidelity, and the fact that they still love each other, Trask realizes that he should forgive his wife. Trask then calls Jane from Marie's room, and she eagerly tells him to come home immediately.
Robert A. Davis
Betty Jane Howarth
J. Russell Spencer
Phone Call from a Stranger
Phone Call from a Stranger begins with David Trask (Gary Merrill), one of the few survivors of a commercial airplane crash. Prior to the plane's delayed take-off, Trask becomes acquainted with three of his fellow passengers during an extended layover. Each traveler comes from a unique background with interesting stories to tell and their own personal drama. Binky Gay (Shelley Winters) is a struggling actress dealing with an overbearing mother; Dr. Robert Fortness (Michael Rennie) is finally coming to terms with his role in a fatal car accident for which he previously claimed no responsibility; and Eddie Hoke (Keenan Wynn) is a loud, obnoxious traveling salesman who brags about his young, sexy wife, showing a photo of her in a bathing suit to his fellow travelers. At the end of their time together, the four passengers exchange their addresses in hopes of a reunion one day in the future. Being the lone survivor out of their foursome-- "The Four Musketeers" as Hoke affectionately calls them--Trask decides to contact the surviving families of his three new friends, in hopes of giving them peace of mind and to share what he learned during their brief time together.
Writer and producer Nunnally Johnson was a staple at 20th Century-Fox, with an impressive filmography including My Cousin Rachel (1952), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) and The Three Faces of Eve (1957). The Georgia native got his start as a journalist writing short stories and eventually landing in Hollywood as a scriptwriter. Johnson was nominated for two Academy Awards for his writing of The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Holy Matrimony (1943).
Jean Negulesco proved to be an excellent choice to direct Phone Call from a Stranger. Born in Romania, Negulesco made his feature-lenghth directorial debut with Singapore Woman (1941). He later directed Humoresque (1946), starring Joan Crawford and John Garfield, and Johnny Belinda (1948), with Jane Wyman and Lew Ayres - the latter of which earned Negulesco an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Negulesco worked steadily throughout the 1950s, directing almost two dozen feature-length films, including How to Marry a Millionaire (reteaming with Nunnally Johnson), Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), Daddy Long Legs (1955) and A Certain Smile (1958).
It may seem odd that a star as big as Bette Davis would have lower billing on a film, especially in the wake of her Academy Award nominated comeback in All About Eve (1950). But Davis was a consummate professional actress and understood the importance of a good part, regardless of its size. The role of Marie Hoke in Phone Call from a Stranger is quite small, but it had a great range and complexity that was enticing to a working actor, such as Davis.
For the role of Binky Gay, Johnson originally wanted to cast Lauren Bacall, but when she was unavailable for the production, Johnson turned to Shelley Winters, who was loaned out to Fox from her home studio Universal. Winters was fresh off her Academy Award-nominated role as the tragic Alice Tripp in George Stevens' A Place in the Sun (1951). Winters went on to have a highly successful and varied career, winning a total of two Academy Awards, one for Best Supporting Actress in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), also directed by George Stevens, and for Best Supporting Actress in A Patch of Blue (1965). Her fourth and final nomination came after her outstanding performance in the classic disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure (1972).
This was the third and final film collaboration for Davis and her fourth husband, actor Gary Merrill. The couple previously starred together in Another Man's Poison (1951) and All About Eve.
Phone Call from a Stranger also features the film debut of famed Broadway actress Beatrice Straight (Claire Fortness), who won the Tony Award for her performance in The Crucible (1953) and later an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Sidney Lumet's Network (1976), making history for her brief, but powerful role as Louise Schumacher, the long-suffering wife of network president Max Schumacher, played by William Holden.
While critical reception was mixed, primarily because of the story's fantastical premise, Phone Call from a Stranger was a hit at the box office and features excellent performances from its cast. In 1953, Gary Merrill and Shelley Winters reunited, reprising their roles for a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the story. Then it was adapted once more in 1956 for television, with Merrill and Virginia Grey under the title Crack Up, including footage of Davis and Merrill from the original theatrical release edited in with the newly filmed material.
Director: Jean Negulesco
Producer: Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson and I.A.R. Wylie
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Editing: Hugh S. Fowler
Art Direction: J. Russell Spencer and Lyle R. Wheeler
Original Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Shelley Winters (Binky Gay), Gary Merrill (David Trask), Bette Davis (Marie Hoke), Michael Rennie (Dr. Robert Fortness) and Keenan Wynn (Eddie Hoke). BW-105m.
By Jill Blake
Phone Call from a Stranger
Much of this film takes place in flashbacks, which occur when the characters tell their stories to Gary Merrill's character, "David Trask." According to a modern source, producer-screenwriter Nunnally Johnson originally wanted to cast Lauren Bacall as "Binky Gay," but she was unavailable. Although Hollywood Reporter news items include Bob Adler, Robert B. Williams and Guy Zannette in the cast, their appearance in the released picture has not been confirmed. Keenan Wynn was borrowed from M-G-M for the production, and Shelley Winters was borrowed from Universal. Broadway actress Beatrice Straight made her screen debut in the picture, which received an award for Best Scenario at the 1952 Venice Film Festival.
Merrill and Winters reprised their roles for a Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story on January 5, 1953. Portions of Phone Call from a Stranger were included in an hour-long television remake of the story, entitled Crack Up, which was broadcast on the 20th Century-Fox Hour in February 1956. The show, directed by Ted Post, included footage from the film, featuring Bette Davis as "Marie Hoke" and Merrill as David Trask, as well as new material performed by Merrill and co-star Virginia Grey.
Released in United States 1952
Released in United States 1952