Montreal-born Gerald Mayer (Bright Road) directed this taut hostage drama from a story by Hugh King (The Threat) and actor (Armored Car Robbery) turned writer (Tootsie) Don McGuire. The disturbing screenplay is by John Monks Jr. (The House on 92nd Street).
The post-war years saw changes in audience habits due to television and the venerable studios were seeing that shift play out in their own business. As Dore Schary came to prominence at MGM, grittier and more socially conscious films, particularly from the B unit was changing the look of the studio output. Fans could still count on colourful entertainment such as The Band Wagon, Knights of the Round Table, and Dangerous When Wet, but more and more there were political dramas such as The Sell-Out, contemporary dramas like Executive Suite, and Rogue Cop.
Dial 1119 finds itself among those latter gloomier films. Studios often used their B unit to try out new ideas or personnel and the lower budget often spurs creativity. This 75-minute thriller is not cast with "names" but with recognizable actors for those who frequented films at the time and enjoy movies from the era today.
News travels quickly in 1950. When a disturbed young killer played by Marshall Thompson escapes from an asylum it is with determination and a frightening goal. The news is relayed through police bulletins and special breaking news radio reports and then on television screens including one in the Oasis Bar. The Oasis is a crumby joint as attested by its owner played by William Conrad but the television over the bar gives it that something extra.
The clientele at the Oasis this night includes regulars. Virginia Field is a barfly, James Bell is a disgruntled newspaperman, Keefe Brasselle works at the bar and worries about his wife back at the maternity ward. Andrea King is a lonely woman who decided to take a smarmy Leon Ames up on his offer of a weekend out of the city.
Tension is prevalent inside the bar and out on the street, particularly between Sam Levene, the police psychiatrist who had the killer's sentence commuted to treatment instead of "the chair" and the police captain played by Richard Rober who only sees that more lives were lost because the State didn't execute a killer.
Spectators are crowding the streets surrounding the bar, drawn by the drama which they cannot see yet can still hear over the radio plus read about in special editions of newspapers. They also have the novel opportunity to see the television people in action. Dick Simmons plays a glib announcer who turns the life and death drama into a spectacle for an audience. You have to give the people what they want.
Dial 1119 is an engrossing hostage drama that holds your attention while posing some interesting questions regarding crime, punishment, and coverage. Fans of the cast have an opportunity to see some familiar faces excelling in unfamiliar situations.
TCM is screening Dial 1119 at 6:00 am (Eastern time) on Thursday, October 14th. The films of the day turn a spotlight on mentally maladjusted characters in such titles as M, Night Must Fall, and Cast a Dark Shadow.