I WANT TO LIVE! (1958) B/W widescreen 120m dir: Robert Wise

w/Susan Hayward, Simon Oakland, Virginia Vincent, Theodore Bikel, Wesley Lau, Philip Coolidge, Lou Krugman, James Philbrook, Bartlett Robinson, Gage Clark, Joe De Santis, John Marley, Raymond Bailey, Alice Backes, Gertrude Flynn, Russell Thorson, Dabbs Greer, Stafford Repp, Gavin MacLeod, Wendell Holmes, Gerry Mulligan, Shelly Manne, Red Mitchell, Art Farmer, Frank Rosolino, Pete Jolly, Bud Shank

From The Movie Guide: "Unswerving, uneasy, unbeatable crime melodrama with a shattering Susan Hayward gathering all her glory into a performance without one false note. For devotees of Miss Hayward, this is the one to study; it feels and looks like life.

"The nasty plot has Hayward playing real-life Barbara Graham, whose sensational trial brought her a conviction and death sentence that made her a nationwide cause celebre. The film depicts Graham, the product of a broken home, as a classic bad girl: perjurer, prostitute, thief. ...

"Hayward's performance is so intense, and the film so grim, it's exhausting, watching her suffer through one agony after another. Wise directs with the perspective that Hayward/Graham was innocent all along, although the film offers little evidence to support this claim (the most insistent being Graham's repeated and vociferous insistence of her innocence), a stance that brought universal criticism from law enforcement agencies. For the most part, the hapless heroine is portrayed as a social victim. Hayward had been denied the Oscar for many deserving performances in the past --- SMASH-UP: THE STORY OF A WOMAN, MY FOOLISH HEART, I'LL CRY TOMORROW --- but this time the Academy could not ignore her bravura. The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent and believable. Wise's direction is relentlessly gloomy and swift, telling Graham's story in adroitly crafted scenes; mention should also be made of Gerry Mulligan's fine rendering of Johnny Mandel's classic jazz soundtrack."

From the website Not Coming to a Theater Near You (www.notcoming.com), this 2004 review of the film by Matt Bailey:

"I Want to Live! is the story of Barbara Graham, executed for murder in California in 1955. Graham died in the gas chamber convicted of murdering an elderly widow named Mabel Monahan, but she may have been framed for the murder by two acquaintances who were trying to save their own skins. I hesitate to call the film the 'true story' of her trial and execution because there is still doubt regarding her innocence. Regardless, the film maintains that Graham was wholly innocent of the crime for which she was executed, but gleefully shows her committing other crimes such as prostitution, perjury, and check kiting.

"The film, produced by notorious Hollywood outsider Walter Wanger and directed by Robert Wise, is one of those mongrel films like Mildred Pierce and The Naked Kiss that should be an awful mess but instead comes together to be remarkably effective. There are equal elements of hard-boiled noir, gashouse melodrama, and courtroom potboiler in the film, providing a terrific showcase for a wild performance by Susan Hayward. Hayward won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1959 over Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (a big mistake in my book) and Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Apparently, it was a big year for overacting, but Hayward exhibits just the kind of eye-bugging, nostril-flaring overacting that I like. Think Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest and you’re almost there. Hayward had five Best Actress nominations in eleven years --- I’m shocked that she had any. Her acting style suggests an unholy mixture of Rosalind Russell, Lucille Ball, and Ethel Merman and she does not, in any way, possess a subtle talent. She is, however, perfect for this film.

"Director Wise is content to let Hayward take the film in her teeth from the moment she appears in the film and not let it go until she collapses in the gas chamber two hours later. Hayward’s star entrance is particularly breathtaking: The shot opens on a dingy hotel room, Hayward sits up into the frame, smoking in bed. She looks around and then passes the cigarette to a man’s hand that has just appeared on the right edge of the frame. It’s a small moment, but shows such command of framing, timing, and storytelling that it reminds you what a great director Wise really was and how much he learned under the tutelage of Orson Welles. Wise continues to match Hayward move for move with a cornucopia of stylistic tricks such as Dutch angles, whip pans, overhead shots, and jump cuts all choreographed to Johnny Mandel’s hepcat score performed by a jazz combo led by Gerry Mulligan. On paper, the film looks like it should be a complete catastrophe, but Wise holds it all together with a shockingly cool and cynical tone. One weakness in the script is the inclusion of so many last-minute reversals of fortune as to be ludicrous, but if the film is based on actual events, I guess I can’t be too critical. Wise offsets the ups and downs of Graham’s death row stay with extended scenes of the preparation of the gas chamber for Graham’s execution that are truly unnerving.

"If you’re a proponent of the death penalty, the film won’t necessarily change your mind, and if you’re not a fan of Susan Hayward, you probably won’t be able to wait for her to get into that damn gas chamber once and for all. The film is worth watching, however, for Wise’s sublime direction and to see a film that was wholly unlike any other made at the time --- essentially a big-budget star vehicle version of something Sam Fuller might have written and Otto Preminger might have directed."

Besides Hayward's Best Actress Oscar, I WANT TO LIVE! was also nominated for Best Director, Adapted Screenplay (Nelson Gidding, Don Mankiewicz; based on newspaper articles by Ed Montgomery and the letters of Barbara Graham), B&W Cinematography (Lionel Lindon), Editing (William Hornbeck), and Sound (Gordon Sawyer).