The Telephone Goes to the Movies

pillow talk universal picturespillow talk universal pictures
Pillow Talk

[:en]A guest blog by Graham Gifford, of the New Hampshire Telephone Museum

I love the movies. The latest blockbuster or the best in classic film, it doesn’t particularly matter to me because I enjoy them all. Like most people I gravitate toward certain genres and particular actors, but since working at The New Hampshire Telephone Museum in Warner, New Hampshire, I’ve begun to notice how often the telephone appears in the movies as either a focal ‘character’ or a least plays a strong supporting role in the plot.

Sorry Wrong Number
Sorry Wrong Number

Since the telephone’s inception, one might argue that it was destined for greatness (eventually), but destined for Hollywood stardom? I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that.

And yet, over the years, the telephone has been featured in hundreds of movies and without their intangible contribution, the movie may have been a considered a complete flop.

His Girl Friday
His Girl Friday

Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the 1940 film, His Girl Friday, had three starring roles; Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and the Candlestick? And what of Barbara Stanwyck in the movie Sorry Wrong Number; with the telephone as her only connection to the outside world, wasn’t it really the phone that was critical to the storyline?

The ever-popular movie E.T. has received universal acclaim ever since it debuted in 1982. As a matter of fact, the line “E.T. phone home’ is ranked 15th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Movie Quotes List.

ET Phone home LEGO
ET phone home LEGO

Like any good character actor, the telephone has subtly appeared throughout films, always supporting the lead actors but never actually receiving credit for its’ contribution.

In many a scary movie, the thrill would wane if it wasn’t for the startling ring of the telephone. Movie watcher’s hearts skip a beat when the phone call comes in The Ring and who could forget actress, Drew Barrymore’s expression as she begins to realize the voice on the phone is that of a killer in the Scream. In the psycho-thriller Sisters (1973) actress Jennifer Salt is confronted by a deranged inmate, who warns her that phones are dangerous; “They can make you sick,” the madwoman insists, “very, very sick. That’s how I got so sick—someone called me on the TELEPHONE!!!”

Dial M for Murder
Dial M for Murder

Vintage film-lovers probably remember When a Stranger Calls starring a young Carol Kane as a trapped babysitter or Grace Kelly as the cheating wife in Dial M for Murder.

In the 2002 movie Phonebooth, Colin Farrell learns that it’s unwise to answer a ringing phone in New York City. And yet a telephone booth becomes a safe haven in Hitchcock’s The Birds.  And who could forget the surprise call to Jodie Foster from conniving Anthony Hopkins, aka Hannibal, in Silence of the Lambs.

What do romance and the telephone have in common? Quite a bit, I should say. Bells are Ringing with Judy Holiday is one such notable film. Doris Day and Rock Hudson fell in love while sharing a party line in Pillow Talk.

And while the telephone determines success or failure in Glengarry Glen Ross, a phone call aids Neo to transport from one reality to another in The Matrix.

There are so many scenes in which the telephone plays an intricate role in either the plot of the film or the viewer’s experience. I’m not certain which of this year’s summer movies showcase the telephone, but I have no doubt the phone takes on a character appearance in each and every one.

…and what of TV movies? Does the telephone play an equally important role in TV shows as well? I would say absolutely yes!  For example, the tension created in La cabana is palpable and in the case of this Spanish film, most of the cast are telephone booths.

What’s your favorite movie? Does the phone play a major role?

Movie trivia as it relates to the telephone:

The coveted 24-karat gold statuette is worth $900, based on current gold prices, while the iPhone 7 cost nearly as much.

The highest sum ever paid for an Oscar was $1,542,500 by Michael Jackson in 1999 for the Best Picture award David O. Selznick won for Gone With the Wind, according to Vanity Fair. Israeli startup Sirin Labs offers the world’s most expensive Android smartphone. Called Solarin, the smart phone has been dubbed the ‘Rolls Royce of smart phones and is priced at $14,000

While nearly 3,000 statuettes have been presented since the first Oscar ceremony in 1929. 7 billion people own cell phones.


Graham Gifford, Program Director NHTM and avid movie go-er
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  1. Good posting! One of my favorite phone scenes is in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, when George Bailey and Mary Hatch are cheek to cheek on the phone, listening to their mutual friend. The tension builds, and George finally ends up kissing Mary for the first time. Great film scene.

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