film response: I Want To Live!

Susan Hayward in I Want To Live!

It might seem like I’m not watching much, but I have been. I just haven’t been writing. It’s been especially hard during these last 9 weeks of chemotherapy.

When I’m fatigued, I tend to watch crap, or else more easily approached and digested 45-minute television episodes. I’m still enjoying The Walking Dead, Treme, The Clone Wars and Boardwalk Empire, for example; and I indulge in The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural. I wasted far too much time with the politically incoherent Homeland, unfortunately. And The Dark Knight Rises was a steaming pile of crap.

Most of the gay-themed movies I’ve watched have been forgettable, except for a number of interesting shorts, which I’ll get around to writing about eventually.

The other day I took a break from all that stuff and decided to watch I Want To Live!, a 1958 B&W melodrama directed by Robert Wise. You might remember him as director of The Curse of the Cat People, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and of course, The Sound Of Music and West Side Story.

I was prepared for some overwrought acting — in fact, I was looking forward to it — and some juicy dialogue. I was not prepared for some rather brutal, minimalist sequences depicting the preparation of the gas chamber for main character and accused murderer, Barbara Graham, played to the hilt by an awe-inspiring Susan Hayward. These montages provided plenty of tension in the film’s final 30 minutes.

I was also surprised by the amount of room made for doubt in the script as to Graham’s innocence. Unlike most weepy Holllywood courtroom dramas, all we really have to go on is Graham’s insistence that she didn’t kill that old woman and the mountain of evidence against her provided by the prosecution. The film doesn’t show the killing. Put in the same the position of the media “audience” of the time, any possible sympathies we might have for Graham are in the character’s charismatic personality and down ‘n’ out life-story as portrayed by Hayward.

Although Graham started out the film as a fatalist and an unapologetic criminal, eventually she discovered she wanted to live.

That was enough for me.

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