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.

11 comments:

  1. Dave,
    I've never heard of this film. How did you manage to find it? I'd like to see it just to see what Warner Bro's came up with in the 'B' category, Oh, and to see that early high dollar flat screen! Ha Ha
    I enjoyed this review.
    Page

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    1. Hi Page -
      Thanks for stopping by ... The film is actually available as one of the "8 timeless suspense thrillers" in the Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5. I always like to remind people to check with their local library when looking for DVD's, it's free!!! ... You can't beat that, especially with the economy the way it is ...

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  2. Dave, you've pulled this one way out of the vault. What bar in the 1950s would have bought a TV that expensive? Was it product placement? LOL

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    1. Kim -
      This film was way deep in the vault ... It's funny that in the film the bartender (played by William Conrad) is always talking about how the place is "a crumb joint", and calls all the patrons "crumbs". But all that money is spent on the television. I can't tell if he's the owner or just works there !!! LOL

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  3. Very glad to read this. I've never seen it and recently picked up the Film Noir Vol. 5 on sale. Sounds like its a good one.

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    1. Kevin -
      It's a pretty good film. I keep thinking to myself how it would have been if Anthony Perkins played the part of Wyckoff. The role would have been right up his alley ... Seemingly calm but disturbed below the surface ...

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  4. Thanks for your look at this unusual movie. Sounds great. I'm amazed about that TV, too.

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    1. Jacqueline -
      It seems like they were really pushing the big screen TVs back then. I did a post on "Ma and Pa Kettle" a while back and they moved into a modern home with a huge entertainment center complete with big flatscreen TV ...

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Dave, I have this noir boxed set - not a bad collection at all, but this seemed one of the weaker entries to me. Was interested in its depiction of the era's bar culture and attitudes toward the "insanity defense," and liked Virginia Field as a barfly - but otherwise it seemed more like a TV drama to me than noir (felt the same about Don Siegel's "Crime in the Streets"). Much preferred Anthony Mann's "Desperate" and Richard Fleischer's "Armored Car Robbery."

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    1. Eve -
      It's definitely not on the same level as "Out Of The Past" (1947) or "Double Indemnity" (1944), but it's not too bad if you find you have an hour or so to kill ...

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