TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Telephone dialing in old movies, police radio

Telephone dialing in old movies, police radio
15 May 2007 08:35:26 -0700

I watched a number of movies on TCM lately and noticed various
telephone dialing patterns.

The wallclock time to dial a seven digit phone number is a bit long
for drama. Often times the actor will just spin the dial a few times
or dial fewer digits so time isn't wasted and the pace gets too slow.

In the odd film "The World of Henry Orient" (1964) telephones were
used by affluent people. Everyone had a color or specialty phone
(i.e. Princess) which were somewhat rare in those days due to the
extra cost. One character had what I think was an Ericcson phone,
where the dial and hookswitch button were in the base. In 1964 many
people still had 300 sets, not even a 500 set.

In some scenes seven digits were dialed, but in others only five. The
film took place in NYC where seven digits were required.

In other movies there was often a scene of calling the police.
Someone always dialed zero, not a listed number for the police. In
postwar movies, many people still had candle stick phones or a pay
phone used two piece components. Many phones were non dial.

Another thing I noticed in those old films was differences in police
work compared to today. If the cops were making an arrest or visiting
a dangerous suspect, they'd have plenty of backup manpower. But back
then only one or two cops showed up, leaving them vulnerable to be

Also of course cops on foot had no radios and radios in patrol cars
were rare. The film "The Naked City" (1948) shows a detective going
into a dangerous situation by himself since HQ had no way to reach
him. The suspect escaped, and it was slow spreading the alarm to the
beat cops to give chase; they blew whistles to alert each other.
Also, back then cops liberally used their fists. (Although apparently
back then the allowed use of fists and nightsticks reduced use of the

Indeed, in the "film noir" of the 1940s and 1950s so many plots would
have to be completely rewritten today since (1) police procedures have
changed and (2) the use of radios. If someone was on the run from the
cops they risked getting shot, indeed, that was a frequent dramatic
effect in many movies, the desperate man's last attempt, his
girlfriend pleading with the cops not to shoot him.

Ambulances back then had some first aid gear, such as oxygen, but
basically were only a station wagon or small van with a stretcher
(canvas sheet between two poles). Today's ambulances have radios and
telemtry machines where a patient's vital signs are relayed to the
emergency room doctors. Hospitals are alerted in advance to prepare
for certain cases, such as a heart attack.

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