Phone Call from a Stranger is the kind of studio product that Hollywood produced with considerable polish and flair up through the 1950s. It's a product, not art, and as such it tends to be very concerned with getting things right: the right mixture of character types, the right way of setting up each story so that the audience follows it clearly, the right plot turns that grow naturally out of what has come before. Nunnally Johnson's screenplay accomplishes all that it sets out to do very well and makes the movie very watchable, but there's a calculated precision to it that modern day audiences may find off-putting. It also makes for uncomfortable moments, as when Gary Merrill's character puts off telling the family the fate of one character merely as a means of creating tension in the audience. The screenplay does provide some juicy parts for its generally good cast, however, with Bette Davis turning in a memorable performance and making the most of the setpiece given to her. Shelley Winters also does very well, and Keenan Wynn is excellent as the obnoxious salesman whose blustery demeanor masks genuine tenderness. Even Gary Merrill is more convincing than usual. Phone Call is well-done and moderately entertaining but ultimately empty.
by Craig Butler review