Dial 1119 (1950)
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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.
The simple premise here is transcended by gritty, real acting and some nice filming and editing to make a great minor movie. At the start, a psychotic killer is loose, and he is looking for the shrink that once put him in the mental ward. But when he gets to the town where the doctor lives, things go wrong, and he ends up with a set of hostages in a second story bar. Police arrive and surround him, and the standoff begins.
What happens next is partly formula, as each of the hostages has some kind of encounter with the man, either in trying to talk him out of things, or make a phone call for help, or eventually physically attack. There is a shadow of that more famous precursor, "The Petrified Forest," but with none of the literate and romantic elegance of the hostages or the archetypal hype of the criminals. This is more of the gritty truth of what it might actually be like.
Outside the bar, as the townspeople gather and the police strategize, it's a believable situation as well. It's night on the street, and the doctor is found but no one will let him go in and negotiate because the cops have their preferred methods which are tried, one by one, without success. There's a slight feeling of those crowds who were watching Henry Fonda trapped in his upper story room in "The Long Night" (1947), though in this one the crowds are not at all sympathetic. Eventually the doctor takes a chance and goes in to talk to the criminal in what is now an established profession of crisis negotiator.
One fascinating aspect here, for 1950 especially, is the role of live television. A portable "on the spot" t.v. truck arrives and sets up in the street (with more than one camera). And in the bar there is a large screen (yes, very large) television that the criminal turns on for awhile. This allows him to see what is happening outside the bar, and so we get to see both sides of the situation at the same time. While television had been used many times in movies before, it was perhaps never quite so visually integral to the events as here. The technology that is implied for this kind of very large device isn't clear (they mention something in the movie which doesn't explain it, really, but which makes clear they know it's unusual for the time).
There are several excellent (and familiar) actors in this tightly woven plot. The lead (the killer) played by Marshall Thompson is unfamiliar to me, and might be a weaker link--he plays the steely-faced desperado a little too straight (not that we needed Richard Widmark, that's an idea!). The cop side of things is very routine, but there are some nice twists to their progress. In all, well made and mildly suspenseful, and fast enough to never let you down.
Time and circumstances get six people trapped in a bar in the fictitious Terminal City where Thompson after taking a weapon from a bus driver and killing him over it, he holds up in a bar. When the news comes over the bar television, Thompson shoots bartender William Conrad and holds the other customers which include Virginia Field, Andrea King, Leon Ames, Keefe Brasselle, and James Bell as hostages.
Thompson had been convicted once of murder, but was declared insane and given a life sentence at an asylum due to the work of psychiatrist Sam Levene. A fact that police captain Richard Rober won't let him forget. They have a lot to say to each other during the course of the film.
Dial 1119 moves at a pretty good pace and not a minute of its 75 minute running time is wasted. The lack of really big movie names no doubt helps create the realistic aura of the film.
Marshall Thompson usually played good guys and will ever be remembered as Daktari from the television show. I suspect he never got roles like this again because the public wouldn't accept him just like Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley.
This film is brutally uncompromising on its view of the death penalty. Opponents of capital punishment will not be pleased, but Dial 1119 is still a great noir film.
The Killing Hour.
A compact suspenser, Dial 1119 can be seen as very much a prototype of future thrillers where a hostage situation takes place. Here the story basically sees Thompson as escaped mental patient Gunther Wyckoff, who takes a bus to Terminal City, grabs hold of a gun and holes up in a bar with a small group of hostages. His aim is to reap revenge on the doctor who spared him the electric chair and had him committed instead.
In the bar is the barman, the busboy who is an expectant father, a barfly broad, a Lothario and the young lady he had coerced into having a fling with him. As tensions rise in the bar, outside the crowd gathers and so does the press, who sensationalise the situation. The cops scratch around for a solution, one of which seems to be kill Wyckoff at any cost! The narrative has caustic observations on these outside parties, while it also brings into play the delusions of the troubled Wyckoff who believes he is a war torn ex squaddie. The film doesn't shy away from violence either, there will be blood, as it were.
It's acted and directed commendably and Vogel's black and white photography is crisp and perfectly in keeping with the tone of the picture. All in all it's a good and suspenseful way to spend 75 minutes. 7/10
Dial 1119 is a film discussion of the distention between straight-ahead law enforcement and the brand-new authority of psychological intervention in criminal matters. The heart of the film is the series of conversations between the Homicide Captain and the forensic psychiatrist. Therein lies a clear blueprint of the issues: Is it better to identify and treat society's offenders, rather than simply punish? What should the treatment be; confinement, medicine or capital punishment? In view of the fact they prosecuted a man for murder and saw him escape the electric chair to kill again, are the police to be blamed for being skeptical of the medical model in dealing with crime? Are we to condemn the doctor's humanist courage as simple folly, or celebrate it as a noble march toward higher existence?
I found the relationship between police and doctor to be unique in cinema, can't remember when I've ever seen it so clearly and dramatically drawn. Also, the characterizing vignettes of the various hostages were deftly wrought. Overall, a remarkable film rendered nearly into the realm of science-fiction by the dominance of a 48 inch flat screen TV over the main set, presaging the looming hypnotic sway the contraption would wield on a developing social world.
The major difference with "Dial 9111" and these other films is that instead of a criminal holding everyone hostage, it's an escaped mental patient--a guy who has no compunction about killing people with his stolen gun. Seeing this guy with a baby face is particularly striking. And, to make it a lot more creepy than these other films, he does so with absolutely no emotion--none! The bar is made up of a variety of patrons (some of which have interesting back stories--like the creep played by Leon Ames) as well as the amazingly blunt and rude bartender, 'Chuckles' (William Conrad).
Once the guy begins shooting people in the bar, there isn't a lot the police can do--he might be insane but he's also smart and has figured all the angles--and police are afraid to do anything lest all the captives be killed. The film then, is a very tense standoff--on with brutal violence, great tension and a lot to offer with such a low-budget film. Well worth your time.
This may be big-budget MGM's cheapest production on record (basically one set and a $20 lighting bill), but they do get their money's worth. This suspenseful little crime drama is well acted and packs a pretty good punch. Baby-faced Thompson plays against type and is excellent in the pivotal role of the stare-happy wacko. William Conrad is a stand-out too, as the no-nonsense barkeep, but I guess it's only logical that he would have to exit early too bad. On the other hand, make-out artist Earl (Ames) and the classy what's-she-doing-in- this-dump Helen (King) are none too believable, and I kept hoping Gunther would spare us the bad seduction dialog and put a fist in Earl's syrupy mouth. Apparently, young father Skip (Brasselle) was added so there would be at least one sympathetic person among the collection of compromised characters. Anyway, it's a good, tight little B-film, with the novel idea (for its time) that movies and TV might get along, after all.
But some of the very best noir came out of that studio in the 1940s and 1950s -- this being one of the bleakest and grittiest.
It's kind of a "Grand Hotel" in a sleazy bar. We have lots of types, but, with the exception of one dear thing on her way to the road to Hell with an older man, they're extremely convincing low lifes.
We have a real prostie here, a tough bartender, a couple of guys on the make.
The escaped killer is portrayed very brutally, with understanding but no phony-baloney tears.
The cast could scarcely be better. Marshall Thompson, previously a romantic juvenile, is fine as the blank-faced killed. Andrea King is always a treat, though I wish she weren't obscured by the beret she wears here. Still, the scenes between her and the fast-talking middle-aged Romeo who has her in the bar are superb.
This is one of the best in the genre.
Aside from the now-familiar plot, this is a 1950's icon of technology and slowly entering post-war angst about society's Mental Health responsibility and criminal sentencing. The scenes are concise and not too heavy on vitriol. It all seems remarkably believable. Especially the usually ineffective Marshall Thompson as a man without a conscience and is completely fixated internally.
The shots of inside the Media truck and the big-screen TV are infiltrations of a yet to be discovered, mammoth intrusion of the Fourth Estate. To add more authenticity there is the uneasy graphic violence capped by an ending of bullet holes and blood that in 1950 was unheard of.
This is one of the most unheralded of the Film-Noirs and will likely gain reputation upon modern reflection and is a Diamond of a discovery.
This is a slick character-driven film noir with a title doesn't seem to do it justice. Originally, the plan was to call it 'Standoff' which conveys the idea of the story more accurately. The narrative begins rather slow but draws the viewer in, especially when a deranged psychopath starts killing innocent bystanders randomly. The dialog that the police and the psychiatrist share is rather interesting and worth hearing. The fact the shrink is killed by his patient shows what side the filmmakers are on.
An angry war veteran seizes hostages and/or murders innocents, and gains media attention and feedback -- in this movie, by means of telephone and television.
(Does the name Christopher Dorner ring a bell?)
Perhaps this was one of the first depictions of PTSD. It was released in 1950, and the main character describes his experiences in the Pacific War.
Also, there's a psychiatrist involved -- and a handgun with more than one clip, and an explosive device -- but not a single cell phone, helicopter, or automatic pistol.
The scenario has truthiness.
The police have to figure out how to capture Wyckoff and free the hostages without any other people getting hurt. They send in the doctor (Levene) whose testimony saved his life during a murder trial three years earlier.
It's post-war, so there's some psychoanalyzing of Wyckoff along the way.
The bar has a giant television, which is great to see, and the bartender controls it from what looks like a radio below. The block of Terminal City where the bar is located is an obvious set, but somehow, it sets the just the right atmosphere.
Virginia Field plays one of the bar patrons, Freddy, and she's unrecognizable as the ingénue from Fox films such as "Lloyds of London," and the Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan films. With the exception of Levene, the original Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls," who continued doing film, most of the other actors enjoyed good careers in television.
Killing a bus driver after he is discovered to have a gun, he then takes over a local bar where a new invention called television is presenting local news as the bartender (William Conrad) grumbles about it. It is the local news that will soon be camping outside this bar when Thompson orders local police to send doctor Sam Levene there for one last confrontation in exchange for the hostages he has taken. Virginia Field is unforgettable as the aging and drunken "B" girl obviously tiring of life yet unable to escape her floozy identity. Andrea King is a young lady enticed by an older married man (Leon Ames) with a romantic trip out of town. These are the most memorable of the hostages, the others (including a newspaper man whose own paper ignores his call for help) not as fleshed out.
The film makes a few important comments on both the human condition and the issue of violence in society. The most obvious issue is the importance of gun control. In only 75 minutes, the film's gritty and unapologetic violence takes several lives shockingly and seems to be written just to expose the growing violence in society rather than present a plot which is neatly wrapped up like the usual MGM fare. Field gets a great exit which ties the trashy element of the story with an ironic twist that is sure to bring delight.
I suppose it deserves a bit of credit for making an attempt to show how the media intrudes on these types of unfolding situations and packages them as entertainment. Too bad it does so in a naive, wildly unrealistic fashion. Surprising that TCM, otherwise the best channel going, would showcase this as part of their "Unknown Gems" (or something) segment. It's unknown all right, and with good reason.
One final note: I'm pretty sure that's Barbara Billingsley from "Leave it to Beaver" there towards the end, even though this is not listed as being among her films on this site.
The psycho is played - or should I say underplayed - by Marshall Thompson. This guy has been a minor player in movies, and later TV, forever. He specialized in innocent, usually naive characters. He should have stuck with it. This isn't acting. I don't know what it is. He practically walks in his sleep, There are occasional eruptions of violent hysteria to remind us that he is nuts. Otherwise, we would think he was asleep. He sometimes launches into a whining explanation of all his problems. The only people who care are the ones he's holding hostage. By the middle of this movie, I felt like I was held hostage. From time to time they cut to Sam Levene who plays the shrink. He sounded crazier than the psycho! I have to believe all these actors were contract players. Nobody could possibly have wanted to appear in this movie voluntarily.
There is one peculiar aspect to this movie that caught my attention. They seem to be fascinated with TV. This was 1950 and TV was still largely an oddity to most folks. There is a large screen TV in this seedy bar that probably wouldn't rate a pin ball machine in real life. They feature shots of those immense early tv cameras as well as the control trailers with all the flashing lights, dials, knobs, and switches.
Anyway, the shrink finally talks his way into the bar and takes that high energy opportunity to confront this guy with the news that he was rejected by the draft and invented a story that the military taught him to kill in order to hide his own inadequacies. What! This guy has been under treatment for years, locked up in a rubber room, and the shrink takes this explosive moment to confront him. Well, guess what happens.
Meantime, do yourself a favor. If you ever decide to watch this, play a little background music on your stereo to fill in all the dead time.
The story takes place in a small, rather cozy bar in Terminal City (get it?) that looks like the Big Apple. Thompson hold 6 people hostage, (well, really 5 since he guns down the bartender William Conrad right off the bat). He wants to meet up with his former doctor, played rather badly by Sam Levine, who convinced a jury that Thompson was insane, thereby having him sent to an asylum instead of the gas chamber. Needless to say, Thompson is ticked off, escapes from the asylum and threatens to kill the bar patrons unless Levine shows up for a face-to-face. This drags on for a while and Levine finally walks into the bar and proceeds to do what no self-respecting psychiatrist would even consider. Needless to say it doesn't work out and Levine is unceremoniously dispatched. Things get dicey, shots ring out, and then it's over.
The supporting cast is one we all recognize (Andrea Leeds, Keefe Brasselle, Virginia Field, et al) and they do their best with a rather sparse script. This isn't the worst movie you've ever seen but it's not much. So Marshall Thompson rides off into the sunset to second rate roles and probably missed his big opportunity for stardom.