Hollywood keeps phone lines open


Hollywood keeps phone lines open

By SUSAN KING Los Angeles Times

Friday, April 18, 2003

Hollywood — In “Phone Booth,” a callous public relations man (Colin Farrell) makes a big mistake when he picks up a phone ringing in a telephone booth on a New York street. The caller tells him he will die if he hangs up.

Phones have played a prominent role in films dating to the silent era, including titles such as “The Voice at the Telephone” and “The Phone Message.” Since then, the telephone has played an important part in countless films, from comedies (“His Girl Friday”) to dramas (“Glengarry Glen Ross”) to chillers and horror films (“Sorry, Wrong Number,” “Scream”).

Here’s the 411 on some of the best-known phone movies:

“The Great Ziegfeld” (1936): MGM’s lavish, Oscar-winning biopic about showman Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) features a memorable scene that helped win Luise Rainer her first best actress Academy Award for her delicate performance as Ziegfeld’s first wife, French revue star Anna Held. Knowing that their marriage is over and he’s in love with someone else, Held calls Ziegfeld — “Hello, Flo” — to say goodbye. Have your hankies available.

“The Story of Alexander Graham Bell” (1939): Glossy historical drama about the life of the man who invented the phone. Don Ameche became so associated with the role that for years a slang word for the telephone was the “Ameche.”

“Sorry, Wrong Number” (1948): Barbara Stanwyck plays a demanding, unpleasant invalid who overhears a phone conversation about a plot to murder her. Stanwyck, who received an Oscar nomination, excels in portraying her character’s increasing panic as the phone becomes her only hope to save herself.

“Call Northside 777” (1948): Jimmy Stewart plays a world-weary Chicago reporter who calls “Northside 777” and ends up opening the files on a decade-old crime.

“Phone Call From a Stranger” (1952): Gary Merrill plays a plane crash survivor who uses the phone to contact the families of the dead passengers.

“Dial M for Murder” (1954): The vile husband (Ray Milland) of beautiful Grace Kelly hires a hit man to kill her and times her murder to a phone call in Alfred Hitchcock’s stagy but effective thriller. The scene in which Kelly answers the phone only to be attacked by her would-be murderer is vintage Hitchcock.

“Pillow Talk” (1959): Doris Day and Rock Hudson teamed up for the first time in this saucy (for 1959) comedy about two diametrically different people who share a party line.

“Bells Are Ringing” (1960): Judy Holliday, in her last film role, reprises her Broadway triumph as Ella Peterson, a sweet, caring Brooklyn answering service operator who tries to help the lives of her clients, in particular the struggling playwright Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin).

“Bye Bye Birdie” (1963): One of the best musical sequences in this lively adaptation of the Broadway hit is the “Telephone Hour,” which follows the wave of phone conversations among the teenagers at Sweetwater High when it’s learned that Kim (Ann-Margret) has been pinned to Hugo (Bobby Rydell).

“The Slender Thread” (1965): Sidney Poitier is a volunteer at a crisis center who gets a call from a woman (Anne Bancroft) who has just taken an overdose of sleeping pills. He must keep her on the phone long enough for the call to be traced so her life can be saved.

“I Saw What You Did” (1965): Two teenage girls decide to make prank phone calls proclaiming to whomever answers the phone: “I saw what you did. I know who you are.” But they make a big mistake when they call a psycho (John Ireland) who has just murdered his wife.

“When a Stranger Calls” (1979): In this low-budget thriller, Carol Kane plays a wide-eyed baby sitter who is traumatized during one of her gigs by repeated calls from a stranger who keeps saying “Have you checked the children?”

“Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992): The phone becomes a selling tool in the film version of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a group of low-rent real estate salesmen working for a shady company.

“Scream” (1996): A group of high school students in a small town are murdered after receiving phone calls telling them their end is near.

“The Matrix” (1999): Keanu Reeves receives instructions from a mysterious caller via various phones.

“The Ring” (2002): A phone call means death in this sleeper hit from last fall based on the Japanese blockbuster. Whenever someone sees a mysterious video, he or she immediately receives a phone call from a young girl saying in a weird whisper: “Seven days.” And after a week is up, each person who received the call meets a horrible demise.

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