|Dan Duryea on the phone while Gordon Gebert listens|
CHICAGO CALLING (1951). Director: John Reinhardt.
In this undeservedly forgotten and unusual drama, Dan Duryea [Too Late for Tears] plays Bill Cannon, an unemployed husband and father in L.A. who at times drinks a little too much. His wife takes their little girl and leaves for Chicago, after which he gets a telegram saying that the child was injured in a car accident, and that his wife, Mary (Mary Anderson) will call with news the next day. There are two problems, however: a man (Ross Elliott) has come from the phone company to remove the phone due to an overdue bill; and Cannon has no idea which hospital his daughter is in or how to reach his wife. What follows are his attempts to get money to pay the phone company, eventually putting him in contact with a fatherless boy, Bobby (Gordon Gebert), who hits Cannon's dog with his bicycle and wants to give him his savings to pay the phone company. [Cannon's interactions with the boy would raise eyebrows today, but in this film it's all very innocent, although some might argue that even in 1951 Cannon's hanging around with Bobby, entering his bedroom at night, and so on would be questionable behavior.] Things spiral down inexorably to a very moving conclusion. Director Reinhardt isn't able to sustain the tension all the way through, however, and while Duryea's performance is quite good, at times he seems a little too calm considering the feelings his character is going through; he is wonderful in the final quarter, though, when he has to pull out all the stops. Gebert is one of the most talented child actors I've ever seen, and Anderson [Lifeboat], Elliott [Tarantula], and the rest of the supporting cast are all notable. Gritty location filming adds to the film's impact as well.
Verdict: It this had been made in Italy it would probably be considered a classic. ***.