Prostitute, party girl, perjurer, bad-check passer, petty criminal. She's all this and more...but is she a murderer? Susan Hayward won 1958's Best Actress Academy AwardÂ(r) for her "sensational, nerve-shattering performanc... more »e" (Los Angeles Times) in this harrowing, "must-see" (The Motion Picture Guide) tale that will leave you breathless with suspense. Arrested for fatally beating an elderly widow, Barbara Graham (Hayward) at first goads the police, refusing to answer their questions. But when an alleged accomplice turns state's evidence, Graham insists that she's innocent. Condemned by the press and the public, Graham is found guilty of murder and sentenced to die in the gas chamber. But as her execution date nears, Graham desperately attempts to expose the truth and save her life against all odds.« less
"Barbara Graham was a known prostitute with criminal associates. In the early 1950s, Graham and two men were accused of and arrested for the brutal murder of elderly Mable Monahan during the course of a robbery. Convicted and sentenced to death in California's gas chamber, Graham protested her innocence to the end--and many considered that she was less a criminal than a victim of circumstance and that she had been railroaded to conviction and execution. The celebrated 1958 film I WANT TO LIVE follows this point of view, presenting Graham as a thoroughly tough gal who in spite of her background was essentially more sinned against than sinner, and the result is an extremely intense, gripping film that shakes its viewers to the core.The film has a stark, realistic look, an excellent script, a pounding jazz score, and a strong supporting cast--but it is Susan Hayward's legendary performance that makes the film work. She gives us a Graham who is half gun moll, half good time girl, and tough as nails all the way through--but who is nonetheless likeable, perhaps even admirable in her flat rebellion against a sickeningly hypocritical and repulsively white-bread society. Although Hayward seems slightly artificial in the film's opening scenes, she quickly rises to the challenge of the role and gives an explosive performance as notable for its emotional hysteria as for its touching humanity.As the story moves toward its climax, the detail with which director Wise shows preparations for execution in the gas chamber and the intensity of Hayward's performance add up to one of the most powerful sequences in film history. Ironically, Hayward privately stated that her own research led her to believe that Graham was guilty as sin--and today most people who have studied the case tend to believe that Graham was guilty indeed. But whether the real-life Barbara Graham was innocent or guilty, this is a film that delivers one memorable, jolting, and very, very disturbing ride. Strongly recommended, but not for the faint of heart."
She Wanted an Oscar! (And She Got It, Too!)
J. Michael Click | Fort Worth, Texas United States | 05/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Susan Hayward made no bones about her career goals. She had come to Hollywood in the late 1930's not to become "just" an Actress, but a Star. It took a few hard years of playing supporting roles and minor leads, but eventually her talent and determination won out, and she broke through the ranks and achieved her goal. Having reached the top, she set her sights even higher, stating clearly that she was focused on winning an Academy Award. Her first nomination came in 1947 for the hard-hitting drama "Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman", but she lost to Loretta Young in "The Farmer's Daughter". Hayward would rack up three more nominations (for "My Foolish Heart" in 1949; "With a Song In My Heart" in 1952; and "I'll Cry Tomorrow" in 1955) before she finally hit Oscar paydirt in 1958 with "I Want to Live!""I Want to Live!" tells the story of Barbara Graham, a wild party girl with a rap sheet a mile long who was convicted of murder in the early 1950's and executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin Penitentiary. The script whitewashes Graham's story, painting her as a more sympathetic character (i.e., "innocent") than she had been in real life, but Hayward comes through with a gutsy tour de force performance that provides the film with just the right amount of gritty toughness that elevates it out of the league of soap opera. Her Barbara Graham may be a "victim" of circumstances and a flawed legal system, but she is also loud, vulgar, crude, flippant, and antisocial, often working against her own best interests. And Hayward never hits a false note, provoking the audience to a strange mixture of contempt and compassion, repulsion and attraction. By the final scenes of the film, when Graham is at San Quentin with execution imminent, Hayward is able to gear down and underplay; she's done such a masterful job with her character thus far that the audience feels - and doesn't really need to see or hear - the turmoil within Graham as she resigns herself to her inevitable fate. It's a bravura piece of acting, and Hayward richly deserved the Oscar she won.The DVD is amazingly clear and sharp. The black and white cinematography is brilliant; the shadows in some of the San Quentin sequences - especially those in which the death chamber is readied - are startling. And the film-to-video transfer is flawless; watching on a large screen TV, I could actually see the freckles on Miss Hayward's collarbone and define the ridges on her fingernails in some of the final closeup shots. Happily, the Original Theatrical Trailer is included on the disc; what a shocker it must have been to movie-goers at the time since it includes the famous scene of Hayward being led back to her prison cell repeatedly screaming the profanity that Rhett Butler almost didn't get to utter on screen less than 20 years earlier! Definitely a must-have DVD for fans of great screen acting ..."
I WANT AN OSCAR!...
Mark Norvell | HOUSTON | 10/13/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A memorable film from the 50's based allegedly on the true story of a woman named Barbara Graham who went to the gas chamber for a murder she swore she didn't commit. As played by Susan Hayward (who won an Oscar), Graham is a party girl and sometime thief/prostitute involved with some very shady small time crooks. An old woman is robbed and killed in the process and the crooks let Graham take the rap. Graham is also the mother of a small child---an angle played up in the press as she waves her son's toy tiger at the cameras. What sticks in your mind, though, are the scenes where she's back and forth from her death row cell to the gas chamber as she waits anxiously for a stay from the governor. These scenes are nerve-racking and make me cry when I watch this movie. Hayward is vivid and believable in these scenes as she is throughout the movie. I recommend this film for people who like watching stellar performances in off-beat films. A fine b&w case study of crime, psychodrama and powerful acting. Don't pass this one up."
Great film, just a few BIG inaccuracies...
Mark Norvell | 10/30/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I love this film, in part b/c I have a preference for gritty, dark drama and the "underworld", even though I have no inclination to experience it in real life. The music in this film kicks major tail and adds much to the film; I just ordered the CD today. I don't think you'll find a more realistic filming of the death chamber preparation than this one. The actors who play Perkins and Santo, the other two people convicted and exucuted for the Mabel Monahan murder, are dead ringers for the real people. Susan Hayward succeeds in bringing out the many sides of the real Barbara's personality.About the inaccuracies...Some of the reviewers here obviously were taken in by the film's implication that Barbara was innocent. She, in fact, was every bit as guilty as Perkins and Santo. She was also a laudanam and heroin addict, contrary to the film script, and had abandoned her (fourth) husband AND her (third) son before the murder ever took place, not afterwards. The film shows her being tailed by informants after leaving her son at his grandmother's; she had actually been out scoring drugs. The apprehension of Perkins, Santo and Babs took place in the early morning, without being a media or spectator event, and the police busted down the apartment door to find the trio engaged in a menage a troi that was far too scandalous for viewers in 1958. Ditto the fact that Babs carried on a lesbian affair with one of the other female inmates, the same one who introduced her to the undercover cop she tried to use as an alibi. As for the crime itself? The story told by the first witness for the prosecution was the real version: Babs had been the one to knock on the door and convince Monahan to let them in, pretending their car wouldn't start, and had helped to pistol-whip and gag her. There was also another witness who confessed to police, and was never seen from again. Even though his testamony couldn't therefore, be used in court, it was identical to that of the other witness, who turned state's evidence to avoid being prosecuted. The film DOES get right the fact that Babs bribed what turned out to be an undercover cop into being her alibi, but who had been hired to get a confession out of her.It's perfectly fine to want to make a film that questions the validity of the death penalty. Just don't take a real-life crime story, where there was no doubt as to the guilt of ANY of the people executed for the crime, and change well-documented facts to suggest otherwise.It's still a great story and a great film that you won't forget easily."
One of the best performances by an actress in the history of
M. J Leonard | Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA United States | 10/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Susan Hayward gives an absolutely knockout performance as Barabara Graham in I Want To Live! Made in 1958, a few years after Graham was executed for murder, the film went on to earn Haywood a well deserved Best Actress Oscar.
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. There has been much discussion about Graham's trial and execution, and her guilt is still in doubt.
The movie treads the issues carefully and although it maintains that Graham was perhaps wholly innocent of the crime for which she was executed, it also portrays the woman as a definite "loose canon." She was a naughty girl, and had a smart mouth; she was distrespectful of the law and got off on committing other crimes such as prostitution, perjury, and writing bad checks.
But did she deserve to be put to death for a crime, where the evidence was circumstantial at best? Perhaps it was her shady past that ultimately worked against her. Already prejudged by the media and also by the court of public opinion, Graham found herself with very few sympathic to her cause. Bad legal representation also contributed to her fate.
Directed by Robert Wise, I Want to Live! is powerful and provocative, and remarkably effective, not just for Haywards wild, and gutsy performance,but also because it manages to combine in equal elements the styles of hard-boiled noir, gashouse melodrama, and courtroom potboiler. It's intense, manic, and for two whole hours the drama and the hystrionics just don't let up.
Wise is content to let Hayward take the film in her teeth from the moment she appears and not let it go until she collapses defeated in the gas chamber two hours later. Obviously he's told Hayward to run with it and she did, turning in one of the best dramatic performances in the history of cinema.
The early scenes fluctuate with a jazzy energy that puts across the wild life that Barbara Graham led. Up-tempo music permeates throughout, providing ample opportunities for Hayward to work herself into a drunken and wild frenzy as she parties with her friends in Tijuana.
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 it says so much about her character and about the tone of what is to come.
Most disturbing are the film's final scenes where 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. It's grisly and unsettling and whatever your views of the death penalty are, these scenes will stay with you long after the movie has finished.
But I Want to Live! is so much more than just a biopic of a misunderstood and wayward woman. The film also becomes a condemnation of the American judicial system that forces the audience to watch as the possibly innocent Graham is railroaded, by the demands of the plot and by justice, into a death sentence. The police successfully entrap her whilst she is in prison, and in desperation, she gives a false confession. Torn apart by the press, her fellow inmates, and those she considered her friends, Graham finds little comfort in others.
The film also cleverly avoids falling into sappy melodrama, even when Graham's child is brought to visit and she bursts into unadulterated tears. Hayward manages to maintain a steely and resolute vigor and since she was so headstrong at the film's start, the traumatizing effect of the death sentence becomes evident in her utter defeat.
The damning condemnation of the media, who latch onto her case with sensationalizing vigor, and immediately judge her as guilty, still feels just as relevant today as it did in the 1950's. That Wise can make this material, like its heroine; fall so far so fast and so hard, makes I Want to Live! a totally sensational and profoundly important movie; and it's a film that is wholly unlike anything else being made at the time. Mike Leonard October 05. "