Monday, April 30, 2012

Dial 1119 (1950)

Dial 1119 is directed by Gerald Mayer, produced by Richard Goldstone and stars Marshall ThompsonVirginia FieldAndrea King, Sam Levene, Leon Ames, and William Conrad.  And keep an eye out for an uncredited Barbara Billingsley who shows up on screen for about a minute as Dorothy,  the newspaper editor's secretary.  Paul Picerni appears briefly as a police interpreter, and Frank Cady has a brief appearance as one of the pedestrians on the street.

The story is straightforward and piques your interest right from the start.  Gunther Wyckoff (played very convincingly by Marshall Thompson) is a troubled young man who escapes from a mental asylum in order to track down and seek revenge on the doctor (Levene) responsible for his being locked up.  He manages to board a bus for Terminal City but begins to attract some unwanted attention due to his odd behavior.

When the bus pulls into a station for a brief rest stop Wyckoff steals the driver's pistol (when the driver leaves the bus unattended with the pistol stuck in the sun visor).  When the driver confronts him about it, he shoots him down in cold blood  and manages to slip away in the confusion.  Wyckoff locates the residence of the psychiatrist responsible for having him committed.  But when he finds he's not at home he becomes increasingly more agitated.   While waiting for the doctor to return the psychopath takes refuge in a bar down the street.  From this vantage point the killer can see the doctor's home and be ready for him when he returns.

The bar itself is a home for quite a cast of characters. There's a barfly (Field) whose just out to drink and have a good time, an older man (Ames) who tries in vane to sweet talk a younger woman (King) into running away with him, a disgruntled newspaper reporter (James Bell), a grumpy bartender (Conrad), and a young man (Keefe Brasselle) who works at the bar who's anxiously awaiting news of the birth of his first child.

When the police broadcast a television bulletin about the killing of the bus driver and a description of the killer, the bartender who was the only one to notice the broadcast unsuccessfully tries to call the police, and the psycho ends up locking the door and holding everyone in the bar hostage.  For the remainder of the film the bar patrons try to reason with the killer.  And the police outside try to negotiate for the hostage's release.

As in any well put together noir film the tension builds and builds as the killer gives the police an ultimatum -- locate and deliver the doctor to the bar within twenty-five minutes or the hostages die.  In the meantime, the crowd gathers outside on the street and the frenzy grows as the local media outlet broadcasts events as they happen trying to capitalize on the situation unfolding before them (reminiscent of Ace In The Hole, 1951).

There are quite a few exchanges between Dr. Farnum and police captain Kiever (Richard Rober) mostly because the captain believes that Wyckoff should have received the death penalty for a previous murder instead of of being institutionalized.  Dr. Farnum finds he must make a tough choice -- keep his distance as ordered by the police chief and let the cops continue to negotiate with the killer, or sacrifice himself and face the the killer in an attempt to free hostages.

Overall I thought this was a pretty good film, especially for one of MGM's first B-movie attempts.  It's not exactly an edge-of-your-seat, nail-biter, but it has some pretty tense moments mostly because of the Wyckoff character's unpredictable nature.  Thompson plays the part very well exuding lots of sweat while remaining disturbingly calm with a noticeable tinge of nervousness below the surface.  The interaction amongst the patrons in the bar, and the exchanges between the hostages and the killer during the standoff help to keep the film moving along.  With a running time of about 75 minutes it's not too tough to sit through.

I enjoyed the portrayal of the broadcasting company's (WKYL?) attempt to cover the story for one of the newest media inventions of the time - the television.  Even the bar has a large flatscreen television ("fourteen-hundred bucks installed, push-button picture control, reflected image, 3x4 foot screen").  That "fourteen-hundred bucks" would probably equal about ten thousand dollars today.

This is a pretty good noir film with an interesting twist at the end.  Great cinematography by Paul Vogel keeps all the visuals crystal clear while still preserving the dark foreboding noir world that so many us of have come to love.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Round Six of Classic Film: Six Degrees of Separation

Sorry about the hold up in the game kids, but I've been experiencing some technical difficulties.

But without any further delay (hopefully) here we go ...

Kim over at 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die started Round Six (or was it Seven) of Classic Film: Six Degrees of Separation.  She chose Gloria Swanson and Catherine Deneuve to be connected in this round.

My buddy Page over at My Love of Old Hollywood chose Gloria Swanson who was in Sadie Thompson (1928) with Lionel Barrymore and then passed the game on to me.

So I'm going to choose Lionel Barrymore who was in You Can't Take It With You (1938) with James Stewart.

And now I'll pass the game on over to Monty at All Good Things who, unlike me, is always paying attention.  Good luck Monty and on with the game.