Friday, May 19, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Dial 1119 (1950) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

We were at the theater bright and early last Friday morning for the first full day of movies at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival!

The day kicked off with a new-to-me film, MGM's DIAL 1119 (1950). Ironically this is a film I've owned for years, as part of the Warner Bros. Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 5 DVD set, but I'd not yet caught up with it. So many movies, so little time...!

DIAL 1119 turned out to be a very engrossing 75 minutes which I quite enjoyed. It's a solid ensemble film in which a group of disparate people jointly face a life-threatening situation, as they're held hostage in a bar by a psychologically disturbed killer named Gunther (baby-faced Marshall Thompson).

Those in danger include the bartenders (William Conrad and Keefe Brasselle); a barstool floozy (Virginia Field); a lonely unmarried woman (Andrea King) planning to go away for the weekend with a man (Leon Ames); and a reporter (James Bell) currently on the outs with his publisher.

Meanwhile a psychiatrist (Sam Levene) who hopes to defuse the situation argues with a police captain (Richard Rober) to be allowed to enter the bar and speak with his former patient, Gunther.

The actors may not have been top stars, at least at the time -- Conrad would of course later find fame as a TV detective -- but they each make the most of their opportunities here. They were all, to an extent, playing stock "types," but they do it well and keep the film interesting.

King was an unusual, striking actress, and over the years I've made a deliberate effort to see as many of her films as possible. She does a great job conveying her near instant regret when she meets up with him at the bar before they catch a train.

Ames plays a smarmy type in a way I've not seen him before, and his blocking throughout the film is great; much is conveyed by his physical choices. He is not in the least gallant toward King's character when the gunman takes over the bar, and in fact in some cases he stands behind her rather than attempting gentlemanly protection. Clearly she is wasting her time on him!

Field is good in a flashy role as the aging drinker; she has some fine moments late in the film.

Brasselle, of Ida Lupino's NOT WANTED (1949) and NEVER FEAR (1950), is anxiously awaiting a call from the hospital telling him his wife's had a baby.

Conrad does a nice job as the more senior bartender. As Eddie Muller mentioned in his introduction (at right), one of the fun bits in the movie is the futuristic "flatscreen" wall TV Conrad controls with a remote dial. No such kind of television actually existed when the movie was shot in March 1950, but it's not too far off from what would be developed decades later.

Similarly, the title refers to an emergency phone number which did not actually exist at the time the film was made, but the concept is the same as the modern 911.

The screenplay by John Monks Jr., from a story by Hugh King and Don McGuire, is well done, including an indictment of local TV media who use the unfolding situation at the bar for entertainment purposes.

The movie is also startlingly violent, though it's completely nongraphic. It's quite effective in this regard, causing the viewer to realize the stakes are very real.

The movie was directed by Gerald Mayer, a nephew of Louis B. Mayer. It was filmed in black and white by Paul Vogel

The film's seedy set design, with set decoration by Edwin B. Willis, is also worth noting, including notes written on the wall next to the pay phone.

The movie was scored by Andre Previn, who was just 20 when the movie filmed in March 1950. He was a teen prodigy who had been working in the MGM music department since he was 16!

The supporting cast includes Argentina Brunetti (long of GENERAL HOSPITAL), Hay Baylor, Dick Simmons, Frank Cady, Paul Picerni, and Barbara Billingsley (LEAVE IT TO BEAVER).

DIAL 1119 is well-done studio-era entertainment which is worth checking out.


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