Wrong Number

More British cinema, and more low budget British filmmaking to be exact. The fact is I’ve been watching a lot of this material lately and enjoying it immensely. Sure the quality varies and I’m not making any particular arguments in favor of raising whatever reputation these films may have. It’s simply a matter of immersing myself in the kind of pared down affairs which I frequently find myself drawn to. Wrong Number (1959) is without question a pretty slight work, a movie with a running time of around an hour and shot on a handful of sets. However, those aspects need not be seen as negatives as there’s plenty of pleasure to be derived from such modest fare.

Wrong Number is a heist movie, and that genre variant presents opportunities for drama at different stages – the planning, the execution and the aftermath. More ambitious films may choose to exploit all of those stages, but Wrong Number is aware of its limitations and satisfies itself by working within them. The focus here is the aftermath of the robbery, the earlier elements being only briefly addressed. In brief, a mail robbery has been planned by the outwardly respectable Dr Pole (Peter Elliott) and carried out by career crooks Max and Angelo (Barry Keegan & Peter Reynolds), although far from cleanly when the latter ends up clubbing an overzealous guard to death. If a potential murder rap isn’t bad enough, Angelo and his boss are also interested in the same woman, Maria (Lisa Gastoni).

With the pressure and emotional temperature on the rise in the aftermath of the botched robbery, the titular wrong number begins to play its part. So, as the movie progresses, it alternates between a disloyalty among thieves drama and a slightly eccentric police procedural where a dippy Olive Sloane threatens the patience of investigating cop John Horsley. All of this probably sounds like an incident-packed plot and there is enough in there to keep everything chugging along. Director Vernon Sewell was something of a specialist in low budget pictures, generally making entertaining if sometimes lightweight pictures alongside some more affecting work like Strongroom.

Wrong Number was a Merton Park production and that company made some terrific features and short films throughout the 50s and 60s, not the least of which were the long running series of Edgar Wallace mysteries. There are a number of faces present who ought to be familiar to those who know British cinema even if the names may not be so readily recalled. I think it’s safe to say Irish-Italian actress Lisa Gastoni is the main attraction in this one, and she’s both comfortable on screen and easy on the eye. Actually, the women get the most interesting parts in Wrong Number, with Olive Sloane also making the most of her part as the comical busybody who holds the key to everything.

Once again I find myself looking at one of Network’s sparse yet impressive DVD releases. Wrong Number is a small picture, a true B movie, but professionally made and Network provide a suitably professional presentation – widescreen and a nice, clean print. The DVD offers just the movie but that’s fair enough given the fine transfer and the nature of the film.

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30 thoughts on “Wrong Number

  1. I too am a big fan of these old cheap’n’cheerful British thrillers. Some of them are truly dreadful, but most are very entertaining in their modest way and a few are actually crackers.

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    • This is true, John. While there are some frankly lousy B thrillers out there in the Brit cinema archives, there are loads which are brisk and relaxing entertainment. I’m not sure how popular some of these recent posts of mine have been but that’s not something I’m too concerned with as the films have been fun both to watch and write up.

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  2. Another review that makes the movie irresistible, Colin – you’re going to send me broke! I do love these British crimers from the 40s and 50s, many of which prove that low budget didn’t always have to mean low quality.

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    • Hi Steve, I’ve been working my way through (some of) my considerable backlog and found I’m having a good time with many of these lesser efforts. As John said above, there’s a range of quality but then again there’s often aspects to enjoy regardless. Personally, I do like the Merton Park stuff as it had a certain look that appeals to me, possibly due to my fond memories of TV viewings of the Wallace mysteries and the Scotland Yard shorts.

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  3. Hello Colin, I’ve been an avid follower of your blog for a couple of years now and find it an excellent source of information for obscure forgotten films. Like you I am very fond of these Merton Park crime films especially the Edgar Wallace series. Here in the UK ‘Talking Pictures TV’ have been screening the whole series over the last few months as well as a host of other rare British films. It’s nice to see the great character actors of the 50’s and 60’s as well as up and coming stars such as Michael Caine, John Thaw and Harry H Corbett cropping up. I have a very good BFI book ‘The British ‘B’ Film’ by Steve Chibnall and Brian McFarlane which is a mine of information on the subject.

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    • Hi Ian, it’s great to hear you’ve been enjoying your visits here and I’m very pleased you’ve taken the time to comment now too.
      I try to mix things up here and feature a broad range of material so I do end up focusing on some more obscure stuff from time to time. Right now, I’ve been on a bit of a Brit film kick and many of these have fallen into that category, although channels like Talking Pictures TV and some of the UK DVD labels are helping to draw attention to them.
      I don;t have that book you mention myself but it has been recommended to me in the past and I keep meaning to pick up a copy.

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  4. I have a copy of that book but it still awaits reading. Must get on with it as it sounds and looks terrific.

    Personally, am very much enjoying your workthrough of Network releases, Colin, as they appeal to me about the same as they do to you. I bought “WRONG NUMBER” last year and enjoyed it quite a lot.
    I always enjoy seeing certain actors turn up regularly as police inspectors, particularly John Horsley (as here), who much later became the wonderful Doc Morrissey in the Reggie Perrin series. But also Ballard Berkley, apparently a delightful man. He famously much later became the also wonderful Major Gowans in ‘Fawlty Towers’.

    Might I recommend a Network release I have just watched called “OFFBEAT”, which I very much enjoyed.
    That one features the sexy Mai Zetterling, just as “WRONG NUMBER” has the utterly gorgeous Lisa Gastoni.
    Better stop at this point……….

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    • Thanks for the pointer, Jerry, I’ll try to get to Offbeat quite soon. Next though, I have another title lined up fro a watch, and hopefully a another brief write-up, one featuring Ballard Berkeley as it happens…

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  5. Yes, TOMORROW AT TEN is an excellent thriller with Robert Shaw very good as a ruthless kidnapper. Another favourite of mine is SMOKESCREEN (64) set in Brighton with Peter Vaughan and John Carson. Carson was also in a couple of the Edgar Wallace series including one of the best in my opinion, ACT OF MURDER (64).

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    • Yes Ian, I’ve seen Smokescreen and seem to remember liking it.
      And Carson rarely gave a poor performance – he did some memorable work for Hammer too. I can’t recall now whether or not I’ve seen Act of Murder but I do have all the Wallace films so I definitely have a copy of it.

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  6. Yes, Carson is probably best known for the three films that he did for Hammer. I have the Blu-ray of PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES which features an interview with him. He often appeared as a villain in cult TV series such as THE AVENGERS , THE SAINT and Brian Clemens’ THRILLER and in recent years was a guest at several London film fairs before he died in 2016. A good villain with a voice very similar to James Mason.

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  7. WOW! this series (trilogy so far…) has really hit it’s stride
    with this entry after a couple of slow burners.
    Great comments from everyone I might add.

    Totally agree regarding Vernon Sewell there are some goodies
    among his output I’m very fond of SOHO INCIDENT (Spin A Dark Web)
    which is everything you want a Brit B flick to be…and then some.
    I often get Sewell confused with Francis Searle who made pretty similar films.
    Searl’e masterpiece is the haunting CLOUDBURST which I consider
    the Citizen Kane of Hammer B flicks.

    It’s interesting that Talking Pictures in the UK seem to have done a deal
    with Sony for a whole heap of vintage Columbia pictures.
    Cream of the crop,so far is the considered “lost”
    LAST MAN TO HANG directed by Terence Fisher and starring
    B Movie detective favourite Tom Conway and Eunice Gayson
    who sadly passed away recently. Eunice is best remembered for her Hammer
    and Bond roles.
    Talking pictures have also announced the Warwick Film THE INSIDE MAN
    thus far unreleased on DVD. THE INSIDE MAN features Jack Palance,
    Anita Ekberg and Nigel Patrick. with John Gilling directing.
    Christopher Lee considered Gilling a pain to work for and he was not alone.
    Michael Craig interviewed recently recalled Gilling’s terrible temper.
    I thought Gilling was a fine director,despite it all, and I wonder how
    USA tough guy stars put up with his antics…I’m thinking Victor Mature,
    Jack Palance and Scott Brady among others.
    Hopefully Talking Pictures TV will unearth other unreleased Warwick
    titles like A PRIZE OF GOLD and HIGH FLIGHT

    It’s a pity that Talking pictures generally show 2.35 films at 16×9 full screen.
    I’m sure Jerry will do you a copy of LAST MAN TO HANG..nothing
    like putting a mate on the spot. 🙂
    Jerry,BTW I worked with a woman who’s son married Ballard Berkeley’s
    daughter,and as you say he was a total delight.

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    • Love that story about Ballard Berkeley’s daughter, John. Sort of makes it personal.

      No problem about being on that spot btw re “LAST MAN TO HANG”.

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      • Actually, I would love to see The Last Man to Hang at some stage, not least because I recently picked up a copy of The Jury by Gerald Bullett in a lovely looking Pan edition and wouldn’t mind seeing the screen version.

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    • Lots of interesting stuff mentioned here as usual, John. And I can promise you I’m not done with this type of material just yet. Watch this space…

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  8. Whoops! correction to above title THE MAN INSIDE.

    I have commented elsewhere but thought I’d repeat it here,how
    Brit directors of classy films ended up in Brit B Movie hell
    or worse still directing Brit TV cardboard swashbucklers.
    I’m really thinking about guys like Lawrence Huntington,
    Lance Comfort and Arthur Crabtree.
    All made some really outstanding films but as the 50’s
    progressed found themselves scuffling around for work.
    Crabtree is possibly best remembered for the delightfully lurid
    HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM which has at least
    attained “cult” status.
    I also remember Huntington’s STRANGLEHOLD as being a very good
    Brit B Movie with Macdonald Carey and Barbara Shelley but again
    this title appears “lost”
    Guys like John Gilling and Terence Fisher had successful extended
    careers especially with their Hammer work and in Gilling’s case
    Warwick pictures also. Warwick deserve further investigation and I’d
    love Powerhouse/Indicator to do a box set of their selected titles.

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  9. Our Colin does like to put out those occasional teasers and here’s a long shot. I’m making a guess that the next in this series will be DEADLY RECORD. It’s a Lawrence Huntington film that I’ve never heard of and it stars Lee Patterson and Barbara Shelley and it’s a Network release. It’s funny what a little research can dig up. I must say the supporting cast of DEADLY RECORD is pretty stellar.
    Jerry,I don’t know what caused Huntington’s career slide I guess that he had to take whatever was on offer-at any rate he did lots of TV work which was a lifeline for directors both sides of the Atlantic. His last film was the truly abysmal THE VULTURE which is sad because the cast was pretty decent as well. THE VULTURE is a far cry from Huntington’s earlier work like WANTED FOR MURDER and MAN ON THE RUN two top drawer Brit Noirs. I hope my wild guess is on target because it’s always good to see generally unheralded directors get some well deserved attention – which I might add is pretty much in-line with the whole RTHC credo.

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    • I do intend to put up a title by Huntington on or around the weekend, John, but I had a different one in mind. Mind you, I’m now in the mood to have a look at Deadly Record before too long.
      In the meantime, there will be another entry posted shortly, one featuring someone who has come up in conversation here already – I hinted at this to Jerry a day or two ago…

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