Posted by Richard Harland Smith on December 29, 2006
Confession time: I have a wee fetish. It’s not so terrible, not shameful at all, really, but a fetish it is. I collect pictures of movie characters talking on the telephone. Specifically women. I don’t know how this obsession came over me, but once I obtained the software that allowed me to “grab” still frames from movies, I began to collect shots of film actresses on the phone. Rotary phones, cell phones, pay phones… it doesn’t matter. As the kids say nowadays, it’s all good.
It’s hard to explain the attraction. Maybe it all began with Sorry Wrong Number (1948), the film noir classic in which bedridden Barbara Stanwyck finds herself marked for murder via a crossed connection on her princess phone. There’s something about the telephone that compresses the physical world into a thin line between speaker and listener, charging the air, eroticizing the distance as a latticework of whispers and sighs, of gutteral monosyllables and declarative shouts. Telephone scenes, so often shot in extreme close-up, shorten the gap between movie subject and movie-goer, drawing us into the narrative, making us a part of the story. Remember Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil (1958), clad in virginal white lingerie and stuck in that Mexicali roachtrap, connected to esposo Charlton Heston only via the telephone, her calls growing more and more desperate and breathy? Remember that great scene in It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) where Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed get all hot for each other while on the phone with Sam Albertson? Hee-haw indeed!
For all that cellphones take away from suspense movies nowadays, either providing too neat a resolution or conspicuous in their absence, they do at least give actresses more time on the phone — which for someone with a fetish such as mine isn’t a terrible thing. I’ve recently learned that I’m not the only one obsessed by this kind of thing. There’s a whole website devoted to noted personalities, politicos and film and television characters gabbing away on the telephone… and if you don’t believe me, check out Celebrities With Phones sometime.
I no longer seriously pursue my collection. A hard drive crash on my last computer wiped out my stash and maybe that’s for the best. Onward and upward, as they say… but it doesn’t stop me from appreciating a good phone scene when I run across it. Or stop me from wondering how it all got started for me. Maybe it’s buried deep in my childhood, as these things tend to me. Maybe the truth could be, as in Citizen Kane (1940), reduced to a single image. Maybe it has something to do with my Mother. Which reminds me. I should call her.
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D Action Films Actors Actors' Endorsements Actresses animal stars Animation Anime Anthology Films Art Direction Art in Movies Australian CInema Autobiography Avant-Garde Aviation Awards B-movies Beer in Film Behind the Scenes Best of the Year lists Biography Biopics Black Film Blu-Ray Books on Film Boxing films British Cinema Canadian Cinema Character Actors Chicago Film History Cinematography Classic Films College Life on Film Comedy Comic Book Movies Crime Czech Film Dance on Film Digital Cinema Directors Disaster Films Documentary Drama DVD Early Talkies Editing Educational Films European Influence on American Cinema Experimental Exploitation Fairy Tales on Film Faith or Christian-based Films Family Films Film Composers Film Criticism film festivals Film History in Florida Film Noir Film Scholars Film titles Filmmaking Techniques Films About Gambling Films of the 1960s Films of the 1980s Food in Film Foreign Film French Film Gangster films Genre Genre spoofs HD & Blu-Ray Holiday Movies Hollywood history Hollywood lifestyles Horror Horror Movies Icons independent film Italian Film Japanese Film Korean Film Literary Adaptations Martial Arts Melodramas Method Acting Mexican Cinema Moguls Monster Movies Movie Books Movie Costumes movie flops Movie locations Movie lovers Movie Reviewers Movie settings Movie Stars Movie titles Movies about movies Music in Film Musicals Outdoor Cinema Paranoid Thrillers Parenting on film Pirate movies Polish film industry political thrillers Politics in Film Pornography Pre-Code Producers Race in American Film Remakes Revenge Road Movies Romance Romantic Comedies Satire Scandals Science Fiction Screenwriters Semi-documentaries Serials Short Films Silent Film silent films Social Problem Film Sports Sports on Film Stereotypes Straight-to-DVD Studio Politics Stunts and stuntmen Suspense thriller Swashbucklers TCM Classic Film Festival TCM Underground Television The British in Hollywood The Germans in Hollywood The Hungarians in Hollywood The Irish in Hollywood Theaters Thriller Trains in movies Underground Cinema VOD War film Westerns Women in the Film Industry Women's Weepies