Five Iconic Telephone Moments on Film

Pin It
Film Still, When Harry Met Sally

As the Berlinale-awarded 'Aloys' hits screens – a dark, surrealist tale which stems from an anonymous call – we pinpoint five other movies that dial up dramatic tension via the ubiquitous device

Distance and desire drive cinema, so it’s no surprise that the telephone has such an evocative quality on screen, whether it’s the resort of lovers kept apart by circumstance, or an instrument of make-believe and deception. Swiss director Tobias Noelle conjures a whole world from the telephone’s suggestive possibilities in his Berlinale-awarded feature debut Aloys

An odd tale of melancholy surrealism alluringly shot in the deep shades of a European winter, it sees a private investigator drawn out of his loneliness by an anonymous caller. He surrenders to an ongoing game of “phone walking” with the mysterious woman on the line, mentally envisioning himself in the situations she describes.

To mark the film’s UK release, here's our edit of movie 'cult callings'. 

When Harry Met Sally 
The late-night phone conversations between Sally (Meg Ryan) and Harry (Billy Crystal) shown in split-screen are one of the many delights of this 1980s romantic comedy classic from the pen of Nora Ephron, which turns on the question of whether men and women can ever truly be friends. Their chat about the movie Casablanca, which they’re both watching from bed on their respective televisions, introduced the term “high maintenance” to our relationship lexicon.

Endlessly inventive director Todd Haynes gave us the screen romance of 2015 with this gorgeously sensuous, melancholy film, an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel. The stops and starts of a taboo love affair between a glamorous society wife (Cate Blanchett) and a retail clerk (Rooney Mara) in 1950s New York stops are punctuated by tentative calls full of yearning on beautiful old dial telephones that blend with the exquisite period detail.

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Cant 
All the high drama of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s deliciously stylised 1970s classic of cruel, codependent relationships is confined to the bedroom of gin-soaked fashion designer Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen). She spends a distressed birthday kneeling on her white shagpile carpet in a blonde wig and staring at the telephone while boozing heavily, waiting for the female model she’s infatuated with (Hanna Schygulla) to call.

Anarchic accomplices Marie I and Marie II play all kinds of pranks on the older men angling to get them into bed in this radical, surrealist and free-spirited 1966 masterpiece from Czech New Wave innovator Věra Chytilová. When one jilted suitor calls the apartment of the best friends they laugh at his earnest insistences, too busy playing with scissors and fire to grant him much attention, though his pleading can be heard down the telephone line. Etiquette is truly out the window in this gleefully wicked-humoured riot of destruction.


Lost Highway 
Sinister caller pranks are a horror staple, with the telephone becoming an instrument of terror. Perhaps the most mind-bending twist on the creepy stalker home-invasion scenario we can credit master of dream logic David Lynch for. The chill vibes of an LA house party are frozen for Fred (Bill Pullman) when a mysterious, pale-faced stranger claims to know him and urges him to phone home, handing him a big 1990s brick mobile. That same stranger picks up at the other end.

'Aloys' is out now in cinemas across the U.K.