Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dial 1119

I don't believe I've ever recommended Dial 1119 before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM and is well worth a viewing.

Marshall Thompson plays Gunther, who is an escapee from a mental facility. He's violently insane, and he's trying to get to Dr. Faron (Sam Levene), the psychiatrist who was responsible for getting Gunther committed. When Gunther arrives in Faron's home town by bus, taking the bus driver's gun and shooting him. Nice. Unfortunately, he can't find the doctor, so he goes to a local bar to bide his time. This is 1950, but the bar has something pretty new-fangled for 1950: a big-screen TV, presumably for showing the fights since boxing was a staple of TV back in the early 1950s. The bartender turns on the TV, which is oh-so-conveniently running not fights, but a special news bulletin about Gunther and his being an escaped killer. Obviously the people in the bar know who Gunther is, and he knows they know, so he taks them hostage.

This being a Hollywood movie, there is a motley assortment of people at the bar, some of whom you're wondering what they're doing at such a bar. The bar is also up on the second floor, but that's also another story. Wyckoff calls the police, tells them he's got a bunch of hostages, and demands that the police find Faron and bring him to the bar. Is Gunther looking for help, or is he looking for revenge on Faron? As with a lot of other hostage movies, the various hostages try to defuse the situation in their own ways, all of them unsuccessful. Of more interest is that TV. By this time, news has spread that Gunther is holding these people hostage, so the police and a crowd of onlookers have surrounded the building in which the bar is located. Additionally, there's the TV cameras covering it. (In point of fact, live location work like what's presented here would have been a nightmare to pull off back in 1950.)

Dial 1119 has echoes of a lot of other similar movies. As far as hostage movies goes, I can think of The Incident, while the intrusion of TV crews and the crowd they bring is certainly reminscent of Fourteen Hours. I've also briefly mentioned The Slender Thread before, which also has a hard deadline as a key plot element. Dial 1119 is, I think, the weakest of the four because it looks more studio-bound than the others. But it's also quite interesting for its use of the then relatively-new technology of TV and how the TV cameras would have an effect on the situation -- not only because of the crowd they'd bring, but also because Gunther is able to watch on TV what's going on outside. (Jim McKay, who had the terrible duty of covering the Munich Olympic hostage crisis live, commented that the coverage of the situation caused a problem because the hostage takers were able to see the police preparations in the Olympic Village.) Dial 1119 is also entertaining enough. It's gotten a DVD release on one or another of those low-budget box sets, as part of a film noir collection, a genre I don't think the movie quite fits.

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