In 1959, Truman Capote learns of the murder of a Kansas family and decides to write a book about the case. While researching for his novel In Cold Blood, Capote forms a relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith, who is on death row.
Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Clifton Collins Jr.,
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Barbara Graham is a woman with dubious moral standards, often a guest in seedy bars. She has been sentenced for some petty crimes. Two men she knows murder an older woman. When they get caught they start to think that Barbara has helped the police to arrest them. As a revenge they tell the police that Barbara is the murderer. Written by
Two weeks were spent shooting the execution sequence. See more »
When Barbara is being visited in jail by her friend and later the police informant, there is a fine screen between the jail's bars, presumably so the inmate cannot get contraband from a visitor. But the screen appears and disappears in the various scenes. See more »
I Want to Live was a film from it's inception was guaranteed to create controversy. There are all kinds of opinions about the death penalty and it's application all over the world. Barbara Graham's story, so fresh in the minds of the movie going public in 1958, was going to be a source of controversy.
Did she actually kill the widow Monahan? The film cleverly sidesteps that issue in the screenplay. What exactly was Graham's role in the botched robbery? All the people who could actually tell us are dead. Should a woman be subject to capital punishment. Ethel Rosenberg went to the electric chair on less evidence than Graham and for a crime that was not a homicide.
But all these questions aside, there is one absolute in this film. Susan Hayward gave a performance that must have been inspired by the angels. From the first half of the film dealing with her early life, the homicide she was charged with until the second half covering her sentence and her attempts to avoid the gas chamber, Hayward will keep you glued to your seat.
I can't imagine another actress in this part. She of course was the Best Actress for 1958, but in my lifetime only Hillary Swank in her role in Boys Don't Cry was the Oscar ever conceded before the envelope was opened at the ceremony. EVERYONE knew that both Hayward and Swank were winners going in, that's how good both of them were.
Susan Hayward was simply the best at her job. She had a number of great parts in Fifties and a few clinkers at the height of her career. But to get the Oscar for the part that was her signature role, made the ceremonies in 1959 a great occasion.
She's got a good cast of supporting players in I Want to Live, Simon Oakland, Theodore Bikel, Wesley Lau, Phillip Coolidge. But it is Hayward's film totally.
A part like Barbara Graham given to an actress like Susan Hayward only comes along once or twice in a lifetime. Don't miss this one, however you feel about capital punishment.
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