Dial 1119 (1950)

Directed by Gerald Mayer
Cinematography Paul Vogel

Plot

Homicidal escaped mental patient Gunther Wyckoff (Marshall Thompson) arrives by bus in Terminal City. As he gets off, he is confronted by the bus driver for stealing his Colt pistol. Wyckoff uses it to kill the driver.

Wyckoff tries to locate a man named Dr. Faron, at both his office and then at his home address – an apartment building – with no luck. As he leaves the building, it is a warm night, and he notices the Oasis Bar across the street. He goes into the bar and finds there is a good vantage point to observe the entryway to the apartment building. The bar is tended by Chuckles and his assistant/relief-person Skip (whose wife is in hospital about to have a baby).

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Chuckles, seeing a news flash story on the TV, notices Wyckoff is one of his customers and tries, unsuccessfully, to reach a pistol he has stashed behind the bar. At this point, there are four patrons in the bar: the sluttish barfly Freddy; the young Helen, who is accompanied by an attentive older gentleman, Earl; and newspaper reporter Harrison D. Barnes. Chuckles then tries to telephone the police, but Wyckoff shoots Chuckles dead as he is placing the call. Wyckoff then orders the bar patrons to occupy one table, where he can keep an eye on them. Meanwhile, the gunshot and subsequent scream by Helen attracts attention. As a beat police officer approaches the bar, he is shot in the leg by Wyckoff. Bystanders rescue the officer, and a call is made for reinforcements to respond to a man barricaded in the bar.

The five hostages discuss what might be going on with Wyckoff. The relief barman, when asked, notes the gun holds eight rounds, but while he is speaking, Wyckoff replaces the magazine with a new one.

Wyckoff calls the police. He demands the police stay away, but deliver Dr. Faron to the bar within 25 minutes or he will kill the hostages. It is revealed that Faron is the local police psychiatrist. The press set up TV coverage near the bar, while the crowd of onlookers grows.

As police discuss tactics, Faron is found and brought to the bar. Being a newspaperman, Harrison reminds the others that Wyckoff’s crime was a big local story three years before. As Faron pleads with the police to let him attempt to handle Wyckoff, they try to enter the bar undetected. Wyckoff becomes aware of the attempted breach and seriously wounds an officer. Faron again pleads with the police, and says, “I demand that you let me do my job!”, which Wyckoff sees on the TV.

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The police captain resents Faron’s success at getting Wyckoff a light sentence the first time around. The police prepare a breach en masse with two minutes left before Wyckoff’s deadline, but Faron slips away and enters the bar. He tries to convince Wyckoff he is delusional, but after some discussion, Wyckoff becomes agitated and shoots Faron dead.

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The phone rings, and Skip knows it is the hospital calling about his wife. Desperate to answer, he struggles with Wyckoff; at the same moment, the police detonate an explosive charge and extinguish the lights. In the confusion, one of the hostages uses Chuckles under-counter gun to shoot Wyckoff. In shock, he staggers outside and is cut down by police gunfire. As he kneels over Faron’s body, the police captain rhetorically asks an officer, “How far does man have to go to prove that he’s right?”

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Critical response

Film critic Glenn Erickson discussed the production values of the film writing: “1950’s Dial 1119 is a low-budget MGM picture that resembles a one-act play expanded to short feature length. With economic pressures coming down hard on the studios, the expense of something like An American in Paris had to be balanced by making other studio producers come up with something for nothing. Thus we have Dial 1119, a taut little suspense item that uses only a couple of sets and utilizes the services of contractees already on the payroll. The show also resembles a typical live TV production from a few years later, the kind that garnered attention for the likes of James Dean.”

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Critic Jeff Stafford liked the film, writing, “A taut and suspenseful B-movie, Dial 1119 is distinguished by the crisp black-and-white cinematography of Paul C. Vogel (He worked on such film noir favorites as Lady in the Lake, 1947) and the excellent ensemble cast which includes Virginia Field, Andrea King, Leon Ames, Keith Brasselle, and William Conrad (star of TV’s detective series, Cannon, 1971-1976) as the unlucky bartender. It was the first film directed by Gerald Mayer, son of the famous MGM tycoon, Louis B. Mayer, and remains the best movie of his brief career.”

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A Tough, Gritty Noir Slithering Out of MGM

16 June 2003 | by David (Handlinghandel) (NY, NY) – See all my reviews

MGM was known for “More stars than there are in Heaven.” And therefore few people think of it in terms of film noir.

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.

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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.

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Pretty vigorous and interesting, and well acted, if a bit familiar

7/10
Author: secondtake from United States
20 April 2011

Dial 1119 (1950)

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.

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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).

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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.

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