Plot: Bill (Dan Duryea) has fallen on hard times, unable to find work as a photographer and leaning hard on the bottle for comfort. After a night of getting hammered, he comes home to learn that his inconsiderate ways and reliance on alcohol have finally crossed the line with his wife, Mary (Mary Anderson). She is packing to leave him, with plans to live with her mother in Baltimore and she will be taking the couple’s daughter Nancy with her. This devastates Bill, as he loves his family, especially his little girl, but he has pushed Mary past her breaking point. After she leaves, Bill receives word there has been a car accident and Nancy is badly hurt, but Mary will phone with news tomorrow, which pains Bill to no end. This is because his phone is due to be shut off thanks to an overdue bill, so he takes to the streets to raise the cash however he can, in a desperate bid to learn his daughter’s fate.
Entertainment Value: This is a simple, straight forward melodrama driven by a small cast and a basic premise, as one man tries to navigate Los Angeles and raise some cash in a rush. This one rests on the shoulders of Dan Duryea, as he is the focus from start to finish and since this is a character driven piece, he had to deliver for the film to succeed and he does just that. I’ll talk more about his performance later, but he is a fine lead and the movie thrives because of his presence. The narrative has some issues, but works well enough and is able to keep your attention, thanks to a brisk pace and strong emotional beats. Bill’s desperate search has him encounter all kinds of people and situations, so this is never slow or dull in the least. The tone is quite serious in most scenes, but also has some minor bursts of light humor, such as when Bill struggles to operate a jackhammer, though that is also tinged in sadness. Another draw in Chicago Calling is that it shows a grittier, more working class vision of Los Angeles, not the glamorous, star soaked one we see more often than not. In short, this might be a simple melodrama, but it has a lot to offer and is well recommended.
As I mentioned above, the main reason Chicago Calling is so effective is Dan Duryea, who carries the entire movie on his back. He often shares the screen with costars, but he drives the film and his performance is what pushes the emotional beats. The material is dipped in melodrama and that flows through to his acting, but he doesn’t go over the top in most scenes. A couple times he dials up the melodrama for an emotional exclamation point of sorts, but even, his work is effective. He is called on to play off numerous other performers within Chicago Calling and he handles each exchange well, just a terrific overall effort from Duryea. I think those who are familiar with less upstanding roles will especially appreciate this turn. The cast here also includes Mary Anderson, Marcia Mae Jones, Roy Engel, and Ross Elliott.