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Several steps in quality above the average 1950s B movie, CHICAGO CALLING is yet more testimony of the talents of Dan Duryea. In the hands of a lesser actor, this could easily have slid down into sentimentalized, feel-good territory. Duryea brings so much conviction and multi-dimensionality to the role of a downtrodden victim of bad luck, that it's almost possible to forget that the movie is fiction. This is surely one of the lanky, blond actor's finest performances on film, and it must not be missed by any fan.
As the film opens in L.A. , Duryea's wife takes their young daughter and leaves for Chicago. Desperate pleas do nothing to stop them, and the unemployed husband and father is left with the family dog and his own devices. Later, when the telephone man (Ross Elliott) comes to remove the phone for unpaid bills, Duryea coincidentally receives a telegram reporting that his wife and daughter have had a serious auto accident and are hospitalized in Chicago. Someone will call him later to update their conditions. Duryea manages to convince Elliott to leave his phone connected for another day, until the bill is paid. This sets into motion a desperate attempt to raise $50.00--something not so easily done in L.A. of 1951. Circumstances lead to more troubles and, along the way, Duryea makes an unexpected new friend. Without spoiling it, let it be said that the plot continues in a few surprising ways. With Duryea, and some able supporting players, there is an emotional impact that is not easily dismissed. If this deserves to be classed as a film noir, it is because of a relentless pressure from the forces of fate on a hapless protagonist.
Austrian-born Director John Reinhardt (who died two years later) keeps the film tight, suspenseful and very well paced. There is also a music score by Heinz Roemheld that, strangely, seems to recall Tchaikovsky's "Romeo & Juliet".
This movie is also another great example of the value of location photography. Duryea actually seems to inhabit the real city. We see the blue-collar, everyday side of Los Angeles, not the glamour. It's a tough, but real place, where people work construction jobs overnight, and hot dog vendors might actually help out a desperate man. The film is titled CHICAGO CALLING, but it really lives and breathes in L.A.
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