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Edward G. Robinson,
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Edward F. Cline
Edward G. Robinson,
A young mentally-ill killer, Gunther Wyckoff, escapes from a mental institution, murder a bus driver and, then, takes six hostages in a bar. The gun in Wyckoff's hand kills without emotion or pity wielded by a man bare of emotion. Begins as a moral question whether an insane killer should or should not be sent to the electric, but goes elsewhere before it ends. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
This seldom seen, nearly forgotten gem stands out as a precursor to many movie motifs now taken for granted. A deranged young man, Gunther Wyckoff (whacko with a gun, played menacingly by Marshall Thompson in perhaps his best performance), shoots a city bus driver with the driver's own pistol, then holds up in a local bar using the patrons as hostages. In those long ago days when such occurrences were rare, there were no professional police negotiators. Ironically, Wyckoff does his own negotiating with the law, demanding to see the psychiatrist that is in charge of treating him.
What a crew of hostages: A barfly willing to bed anyone who buys her a drink, an old married fool making arrangements for a weekend tryst with a sweet young thing, a young man whose wife is in delivery at the hospital, a zealous reporter whose newspaper editor thinks he's a joke, and Chuckles, the bartender, played by the dour William Conrad of radio's "Gunsmoke" and later TV's "Cannon" fame. Maybe he got his moniker for being the opposite of chuckles, such as calling a big guy, Tiny. The interaction of this motley crew with each other and with the criminally insane killer makes up the biggest part of the flick. An alternate title was "The Violent Hour," which basically describes the plot of the film, approximately an hour's standoff between the psycho and the police who work to free the hostages unharmed. A young André Previn provides the appropriate atmospheric music.
What a splendid cast. Even workhorse Charles Lane, who is today 101 and says he is still available to do a show, is seen briefly on the tube in a man-on-the-street interview. And don't blink and miss June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) in a walk on part.
Items you don't see around anymore: A cigarette machine, a weight scale on the sidewalk, a pay telephone that costs a nickle to dial 1119 (no push buttons). Items that were curiosities at the time but are now part of everyday life: A flat-panel big screen TV, TV news hype, and, alas, crazies that for no reason shoot patrons who are total strangers.
The chosen title, "Dial 1119," which today reminds the viewer of "Call 911," is a fitting one. Labeling the location Terminal City, however, is a bit much.
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