Michael Troutman at I Shoot the Pictures is watching all the movies on the 1000 Greatest Movies list. He rates those that he’s seen and I searched amongst the ones he has listed in his Highly Recommended category for something to watch. I chose Dial 9111 (1952) and ordered it from Netflix. It comes on a double-feature disk with The Phenix City Story (1955).
First and foremost: any connection between 1119 and the current emergency number 911? Not that I know of.
Second and nextmost: I’m always surprised when I find a good Hollywood movie that I haven’t heard of before, even though I should be used to that by now. There are plenty of good movies that I haven’t seen, of course, but not so many that I’ve never even heard of. I didn’t recognize any of the actors in Dial 1119, either, except for William Conrad, and he doesn’t stick around in the movie for long.
Thirdlymost: Checking out some of the other work by the actors in this movie, I’m reminded of all the great drama on TV in the 50s. Lux Video Theater, Front Row Center, Screen Directors Playhouse, Studio One in Hollywood, Playhouse 90, G. E. True Theater, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Armstrong Circle Theater, and many more. Dial 9111 plays like a presentation on one of these shows; it runs 75 minutes, uses a couple of sets and a stable of contract players, gives us some drama, a couple of closeups, gunplay, an ice-cream truck pulling up to the crowd at a hostage situation, lots of 50s hats, one of those movie air ducts that a man can crawl through, and a satisfying climax (this being the 50s, there is not much doubt about what the denouement will be). Troutman mentions the lack of a score in the movie; another reason that it might have seemed like a 50s TV drama to me. This was back when a phone number in the big city required only 4 digits; where I lived, you picked up the phone and told the operator the number you wanted. I had several dvds competing for my attention, but this one kept me to itself all the way through.
Kudos to Troutman and the others who are watching the movies on these humongous lists of notable films, instead of or in addition to Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009). I watched the IMDB Top 250 and it almost killed me. In fact, I quit with 9 left, all partially viewed; I couldn’t take it anymore. The good news is that by preying on Troutman’s list, I can now check off at least one of the great-film listees. And maybe by now, the 9 that I didn’t finish have dropped off the list, replaced by movies that I’ve seen. I see that Inception (2010) is presently ranked 4th-best movie of all time.
Anyway, so much for Dial 1119, the fun movie. The Phenix City Story, also on the disk, I was familiar with but had never watched. I grew up in the South and when I was ten or eleven I began hearing about Phenix City. Nothing good. It’s across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, Georgia, and Fort Benning, and back before it was cleaned up, it enjoyed at least 50 years of profitable vice in all its usual forms. But another 50 years, and in 2007 it was voted “most affordable suburb.” It’s also not far from Auburn University, which is a lot bigger now than it was then and which beat Clemson on the gridiron today as I write this; the cheerleaders for the game were dressed so as to make the old Phenix City proud.
When I moved to Phoenix for high school, “Phenix” just seemed plain weird.
The difference between Dial 9111 and The Phenix City Story is that in Dial 9111, Marshall Thompson plays an in-dramas-only mental case holding as hostage a collection of in-dramas-only bar customers, occasionally plugging one of them for our entertainment, whereas in The Phenix City Story, actors demonstrate the courage required of community members when they’re up against a corrupt city government and a criminal culture that treats murder like a public utility, for indiscriminate use against men, women, and children.
For example, the chief of police, speaking casually to a patrolman: “Somebody just threw a dead nigger kid on Sam Patterson’s front lawn. Go out there and have a look.”
The Production Code wanted the movie’s child murders and some of its other violence removed, but everything stayed in, probably because on one level, the film is a documentary. Don’t be put off by the twelve-minute intro, in which a real-life reporter interviews some of the real-life participants in the events depicted in the film; it’s the real thing, not B-movie posing.
The story centers on the murder of the Democratic nominee for State Attorney General, Albert Patterson, a long-time Phenix City lawyer. The movie was shot on location in Phenix City while the trial of his murderers was going on. John McIntire, who plays Patterson in the movie, wore the suit that Patterson was killed in, and the film was shot on 14th Street, the center of the sin part of “Sin City,” despite threats from the mobsters in charge there.
Edward Andrews is the baddest of the bad guys and the most familiar face to me in the movie. He went on to play innumerable parental and business guys in innumerable family movies, Disney and otherwise. He was Molly Ringwald’s grandpa in Sixteen Candles (1984). Lucky for him this film didn’t typecast him permanently as an evildoer.
Filed under: Drama |