“Sorry, Wrong Number”: An Excerpt from Franz Waxman’s Film Noir Score

Released in the autumn of 1948, Sorry, Wrong Number is a classic film noir thriller, filled with shadowy, atmospheric shots, and gradually building tension.

The film’s plot centers around Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck), a spoiled hypochondriac and heiress who is bedridden in her New York apartment, and who relies on the telephone for all communication with the outside world. Leona’s husband Henry (Burt Lancaster), a businessman employed by Leona’s father’s company, becomes increasingly embroiled in trouble. As detailed in a Variety piece from December 31, 1947, Leona

overhears a murder scheme through crossed telephone lines. Alone in her home, the invalid tries to trace the call. She fails, and then tries to convince the police of the danger. She gradually comes to realize that it is her own death that is planned.

Sorry, Wrong Number was based on a 1943 radio play of the same name by Lucille Fletcher. Orson Welles praised it as “the greatest single radio script ever written.”

The film’s terrifying climax comes in its final moments. Here, the composer, Franz Waxman, used the obsessive repetition of the passacaglia to evoke approaching horror. At one point, the passacaglia’s stealthy, tiptoeing subject synchronizes with the ominous sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. There are echoes of the music of Liszt and Shostakovich. The musicologist, Christopher Palmer, has singled out Waxman’s passacaglia as “one of the most frightening moments in film music.”

First, let’s listen to this music apart from the film. This performance features Richard Mills and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra:

Spoiler alert: Here is the same music, accompanying the film’s final scene:


  • Waxman: Sorry, Wrong Number (Passacaglia), Richard Mills, Queensland Symphony Orchestra Amazon

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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