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
After the capture, there is a brief shot of the San Mateo County Jail. It's the real building on Sweeney Ridge, adjacent to what was then a Coast Guard Radio Station. See more »
When Barbara wakes up screaming from a nightmare, a prison matron comes in shining a flashlight on her. In close-up, the light has a Fresnel-type lens, but in the next long shot, the flashlight has a clear lens. See more »
Let's begin with the minus side.This is necessarily a one-side movie,because Barbara Graham is deemed innocent whereas nobody knows exactly the truth.And the movie does not help much for that matter:we know little of Graham's life before her arrest:a woman of easy virtue,but this is not enough to convince;her background,her childhood,everything is overshadowed.
However,this is a tour de force of a movie.Robert Wise,one of the masters of film noir,was the man who could pull off this harsh story,because he had always been a restrained director,and mainly,mainly,because,he was one of these artists who could make the best of black and white;I will only mention one scene:the arrest:Barbara is holding a soft toy,and she faces a blinding searchlight,while a jazz music is heard.Eerie indeed.
Susan Hayward,at her peak,is fabulous.I can't think of another actor or actress who gave such a heart-wrenching,such a harrowing performance as far as the death row is concerned(Sean Penn is her closer contender,in his extraordinary "dead man walking" part).
The "preparations" of the gas chamber are detailed with an unbearable accuracy:nothing is spared the audience.Wise was not the first to depict
the capital execution:André Cayatte did it before in "nous sommes tous des assassins"(1952)but he used too many characters and the movie seems today obsolete,and not only because the death penalty was abolished in France in 1981.Then José Giovanni in "deux hommes dans la ville"(1972),and the best French attempt "le pull-over rouge" (Michel Drach,1979) the latter based on a true story like Graham's.This movie remains commendable,the French TV never showed it,that speaks volumes. Two American movies tackled the topic in the nineties:"the last dance"(Sharon Stone being the only asset) and the already mentioned (and much better ) "dead man's walking".
Nothing comes close to Wise's and Heyward 's collaboration.Forget your bias and watch these two artists show us what the seventh art can achieve.
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