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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
Wise asked the warden of San Quentin if he could witness an actual execution to help him with the realism of the event and promised him that his attendance there would never be used in conjunction with any publicity connected with the film. See more »
When Barbara's son is brought to the jail for a visit, and the presence of the news media upsets Barbara, she retreats to an interior area of the jail and pounds on the wall in frustration. The "brick" wall gives slightly as he throws her weight onto it. See more »
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 likable, 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.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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