I WANT TO LIVE!
Review by Michael Jacobson
Susan Hayward, Simon Oakland
Director: Robert Wise
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: May 7, 2002
get fresh with us, or we'll…”
WHAT? What can any of you threaten
me with NOW?”
Graham was no saint. A
free-spirited, tough talking woman in and out of trouble with the law most of
her life, she was a gambler, a partier, and a drinker, with a rap record
including prostitution, writing bad checks, other small crimes and one felony:
perjury. But was she a
Want to Live! tells
the story of this woman who, in 1955, went to the gas chamber in California for
the murder of an elderly woman. I
don't know much about the actual case, so all the information I have about her
is included in this classic movie, which suggests strongly that Ms. Graham may
have only been guilty of bad judgment in the character of the people she hung
of these people were a pair of men, who were taken into custody with her one
night by the police on a number of charges.
One of them is murder. Barbara
claims to know nothing about it, but neither her long history with the police or
her brash defiance win her much support.
those two men point the finger at her for the actual killing, things grow dark
quickly for Ms. Graham. Unable to
provide her own alibi for the night of the crime, she makes a foolish mistake in
trying to come up with a false one. In
truth, according to her, she was home with her husband and infant child that
night, but her husband, a hapless junkie, can provide no help to her.
become intrigued with the so-called “Bloody Babs” case, including one from
the San Francisco Examiner, Edward Montgomery (Oakland), whose real life
articles made for part of the basis of this film.
He starts out as just another one hungry for a juicy story, but his
involvement in the Graham case would change.
He becomes convinced of her innocence, and sets out to do everything he
can to save her.
the end, though, it will not have been enough.
Ed Montgomery could not keep Barbara Graham from her fate.
Instead, he became the caretaker of her memory.
biggest argument against the death penalty is that innocent people sometimes
suffer it…a fact that is not only unpleasant, but wholly unacceptable.
As I mentioned, I don't know much about the real Barbara Graham, but
the Barbara Graham in this film is presented as innocent…as such, even though
later death penalty movies like Dead Man Walking have more grit and
power, this one also factors in a response of audiences' anger at the
I was a kid, this was one of the films my mother made me sit down and watch, and
like most of those times, I resisted at first, but found myself wrapped up in
the movie before too long. I never
forgot this one, and was glad to have a chance to see it again some 20 years
later. It remains a potent story,
albeit with some melodrama and occasionally cheesy dialogue that dates it a
little strongly. It's a film whose missteps are minor, but never falters where
it's most important.
Hayward, in her Oscar winning performance as Barbara, is a knockout from start
to finish, threading together fibers of defiance, pluck, anger, heartache, love
and hate, and creating a complete and complex character with the simple plea
that makes up the movie's title. It's
a fearless performance, and a definite defining moment in her career.
Want to Live! succeeds
as both a character drama and as a picture with a statement.
Other films in years since may have covered the same material, and even
eclipsed it, but this one remains an American original and a fierce classic.
not anamorphic, this is an extremely good quality black and white transfer from
MGM, a studio that never seems to fail in delivering the best possible goods
when it comes to their library of classic films. Blacks are incredibly dark and deep…one shot of a city
nightscape is gorgeous, as lights from cars and signs peer out from a sea of
complete darkness. Likewise, whites
are clean and render clearly, and every shade of grayscale in between.
Images are sharply rendered throughout, with remarkable detail and
clarity, and there are only very few instances of noticeable specks or dirt on
the print as it plays. I'm a little uncertain about the 1.66:1 ratio, though, as a
couple of scenes featuring newspaper headlines come out a little cropped on both
sides. But apart from that, this is
definitely a quality offering.
mono soundtrack has moments that are terrific, and others a little less so.
Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and the jazz music score is
lively and full sounding. Dynamic
range comes about with a few startlingly loud effects and some strong, emotional
scenes. However, during one prison cell sequence that was very quiet,
there was a bit of noticeable background noise. I kept trying to identify it as something in the scene, but
it was just a bit of aging artifact on the soundtrack. Overall, it's still a functional and suitable listen.