The Bottom Line: Nuttin special on the DVD, scene selections and that's all
This factual based movie was released in 1958 so I had to figure that it would be overly dramatic in the acting department. However it starred Susan Hayward, a beautiful and talented woman, who received an Oscar for her part as the lead, Barbara Graham, so I thought it would be an interesting movie to watch.
The story of Barbara Graham is related by journalist Edward Montgomery, played by Simon Oakland, and was fleshed out by his interviews with Barbara, trial notes and personal letters from Barbara. The real story of Graham is typical for the era - pretty party girl that gets involved with the wrong snakes and ends up in trouble. Not that she was squeaky clean herself but the bunch of snakes she bedded with was even worse. I read quite an interesting piece on her in Court TVs Crime Library, Classic cases.
She had been arrested in the past for prostitution, although if it was the one case revealed in the movie it wasnt really prostitution. As typical of the females of the era, she took the rap for the guy cause he was married and it would have destroyed his family. In reality, she was just out on the town for the night, ended up shagging this dude, and when the cops knocked on the door, she took the fall and said she was paying for the room and he was her guest. They had originally came after the guy because he transported a girl over the state line for the purpose of sex. If they were referring to Graham, the term girl had been outta her vocabulary for quite some time.
She also did a short stint for perjury - backing two snakes who needed an alibi for a crime they committed. If Im not mistaken, they ended up being the two that sent her to the gas chamber later on. She did a modest living as a call girl, driver for bank robbers & so forth, and other deeds which netted her a cool $642 for one months work. With that in her pocket, she took a plunge and married for the 3rd time, had a baby, and tried to go straight. Her husband ended up being a drug addict, so you know things arent gonna go right for her in the end.
In a nutshell, that is how Barbara Graham ended up with the last two low-lifes that let her take the fall for them,
This movie did win a ton of awards, including Haywards Best Actress. To me it was a solid sleeper. Actually I had mistaken this one for another Hayward project where she was a famous singer that had lost her legs during the war. If anyone knows the name of that one, please let me know.
After seeing other projects by Hayward, this one proved to be a huge disappointment. Her acting seemed very stilted and didnt flow with the story well at all. All her scenes seemed very staged and not in the least life-like. During a long introduction to the movie, the cameras worked on the angle which must have been a new craze at the time. All the scenes were tilted either right or left, zoomed from above, or distorted. It made the film seem very disjointed and unpleasant. Cinematography did receive a nomination for an Academy Award, didnt win.
Continuity wasnt the best either. The time frame - from Grahams arrest to the gas chamber - covered at least two years, according to the newspaper articles they flashed on the screen. However, her son who was supposed to be 13 months when she was arrested, didnt seem to age very much at all. In fact, about 6 months into the arrest/trial phase, he was brought to the jail to visit and still wasnt walking and looked younger than he did when she was arrested. And the sound effects used for the baby werent in line with a child of that size or age, they used a lot of cooing and gurgling sounds. Perhaps the child was just slow, dont know.
Without checking into the electronics of the era, I dont think that telephones were portable during this time - the 50s. By that I mean, I dont think they had plugs that went into the wall and you could move them from one room to another. This scene was staged as Barbara waited outside the gas chamber in her cell and a guard walked through with a telephone in hand, then took it to the room outside the chamber, presumably waiting from that call from the governor. This indicates that the phone, previously in the nurses area was now moved for easier access before the execution. It was one of those black, desk type rotary phones and I just dont think they had that wall plug capability back then. Could be mistaken. Personally I felt it was just used as a cheap ploy to evict another eye-popping scene from Graham. Man, Hayward could make those eyes pop out huge.
There was also a sting set up by a prisoner and an undercover officer to catch Graham in a confession. This was so staged that it hurt to watch. You immediately knew he was an undercover policeman and the con in Grahams cell was setting her up. It was just too patsy for belief, I found it hard to imagine that the street-wise Graham fell for the scam. Of course, this was a different era and women thought differently. Besides, she was facing the gas chamber, so who knows what went through her head.
Overall I was really disappointed in the entire movie. It was slow paced and boring at times. Considering the subject matter, nothing during the movie gave you that punch to make you believe Graham was innocent, even though you knew she was. Out on the street she was a mean, fighting little Hellcat, but once she got in prison she became a meek and mild mannered person, barely contributing to her own defense. It just didnt follow through, especially considering the title of the movie. I didnt get the feeling from her at any time that she really did want to live.
I Want To Live was directed by Robert Wise, written by Nelson Gidding with excerpts from Barbara Grahams letters. It was nominated and won several awards, mostly different Best Actress awards for Hayward, although the soundtrack received an award. The soundtrack was fairly obnoxious to me but Ive been tainted by more musical releases of this age.
My truly favorite scene in the movie was between Graham and the priest where they discuss her salvation. She told the priest that she wasnt afraid to die, she was looking forward to seeing the one person that knew she was innocent. He came back with (something like this anyway) God knows of your innocence and forgives you. She quipped back with, I was talking about Mrs. Monohan, who was the murder victim she was on trial for.