Friday, December 26, 2014

DIAL 1119

Baby faced Marshall Thompson (winner of the former UT football coach Fred Akers look-alike-contest) plays a psycho killer in DIAL 1119 (1950) a low budget, B film noir produced by MGM. I watched it for the first time last night and really enjoyed it. It's a minor effort but it's taut and well done.

Gunther Wyckoff (Thompson) arrives in Terminal City (perhaps the best name for a film noir city ever) by bus at the beginning of the film. He's newly escaped from a mental hospital for the criminally insane. He shoots the bus driver in cold blood (with the driver's own gun, no less) and then begins stalking the streets of Terminal City in search of someone named Dr. Faron.

Unable to find Faron, Wyckoff ends up in the Oasis Bar where grumpy bartender Chuckles (William (CANNON )Conrad) has a big, flat and square screened, wall mounted, remote controlled  television set. Pretty elaborate for 1950! The set-up cost $1400 according to Chuckles but it only shows wrestling, old westerns and local police broadcasts. Chuckles figures out who Wyckoff is but before he can call the cops, Chuckles is gunned down by the killer who then holds the remaining five people in the bar hostage.

Wyckoff demands to see Dr. Faron (Sam Levene), who it turns out is a police psychiatrist who previously treated Wyckoff before he was committed to the insane asylum. If Faron isn't delivered by a rapidly approaching deadline, the hostages will start to die. Wyckoff regales his prisoners with stories of his experiences in WWII and we begin to suspect that he's suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, a shell-shocked veteran unable to cope with the real, peace-time world.

Meanwhile, a local television station has set up a remote camera crew outside of the bar and is broadcasting everything that happens. The police are determined to storm the bar while Dr. Faron argues that he deserves a chance to talk to Wyckoff and try to avert a disaster. The truth about Wyckoff is finally revealed in a confrontation between him and Faron and things come to an explosive and violent climax that leaves two of the main players dead.

DIAL 1119 is tightly paced by director Gerald Mayer (son of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer). With it's barroom setting and small cast of characters, the film has the feel of a play but there's enough exterior action to break up the claustrophobic terror of the saloon. There's a musical score by Andre Previn but it's used very sparsely which only adds to the suspense and tension of the narrative.

Cinematographer Paul Vogel gets the most out of the limited sets and back lot locales, moving his camera whenever possible and framing several nicely composed shots for maximum impact. DIAL 1119 features a good performance by Thompson as the insane Wyckoff. Thompson went on to star in the television series DAKTARI and there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by Barbara (LEAVE IT TO BEAVER) Billingsley as a secretary at the local newspaper.

DIAL 1119 is a tough and tight little film noir that fans of the genre will enjoy. Recommended.

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