Saturday, March 27, 2021

TCM’s Film Noir of the Week Saturday Night-Sunday Morning at 12:15 and 10 a.m. E.T. is Pepe le moko (1937); Sunday Night at 8 p.m. ET, TCM Broadcasts Robert Wise’s I Want to Live! (1958), Starring Susan Hayward in Her Oscar-Winning Role as Prostitute-Murderer Barbara Graham

By David in TN
Friday, March 26, 2021 at 9:02:00 P.M. EDT

TCM’s Film Noir of the Week Saturday Night-Sunday Morning at 12:15 and 10 a.m. E.T. is Pepe le moko (1937). This is a French film I am not familiar with.

On Sunday Night at 8 p.m. ET, TCM has Robert Wise’s I Want to Live! (1958). Susan Hayward won the Oscar for Best Actress. Others were Simon Oakland, Virginia Vincent, Theodore Bikel, Wesley Lau, Philip Coolidge, Lou Krugman, James Phillbrook and Joe De Santis.

Film Noir Guide: “Based on the true story of good time party girl [English translation: prostitute] and convicted murderess Barbara Graham, the premise of the melodrama is that Graham (Hayward) was innocent of beating an elderly woman to death during a robbery and was unjustly sentenced to die in California’s gas chamber.

“The film traces the prostitute’s many run-ins with the law and her temporary rehabilitation after marrying a bartender (Lau) who becomes an abusive drug addict.

“To support her baby, she joins up with petty crooks Coolidge, Krugman, and Philbrook, until all are arrested for the murder. Philbrook, who turns state’s evidence, clams that Hayward, who had spurned his advances earlier, did the actual killing. Coolidge and Krugman, supposedly the real murderers, keep quiet, hoping all the publicity that ‘Bloody Babs’ is getting will somehow help their case.

“When all three are convicted and sentenced to die, a guilt-stricken newspaperman (Oakland) tries to undo the damage done by the media and their spectacular news coverage of the trial.

“Along with Hayward’s attorney (De Santis) and a kind-hearted psychologist (Bikel), Oakland crusades relentlessly for a new trial. Vincent plays Hayward’s more sensible prostitute girlfriend, who goes straight.

“While Hayward’s character is far from sympathetic and the film assumes her innocence despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, I Want to Live! is guaranteed to provoke strong feelings about the death penalty. The script is powerful and thought provoking in its presentation of the mental and emotional agonies of prisoners on Death Row, and Hayward’s intense performance earned her, finally, a Best Actress Oscar. The film was up for another five Academy Awards, including a Best Director nomination for Wise, who actually witnessed an execution at San Quentin in preparation for the film.”

David in TN: This movie, though technically well done, is a fictional treatment to oppose the death penalty. The overwhelming evidence of Graham’s guilt is left out. The murder of Mabel Monohan is not shown. Several journalists (there were real ones in those days) who covered the case and trial called the movie a “Hoax.” Not the last one that would be staged regarding a criminal case.

This film is well worth seeing. Filmed in Los Angeles, you see how it looked, circa 1958.

N.S.: The old Crime Library, since destroyed by TruTV, had pictures showing Graham to be prettier than Hayward. The article said that when the police came to arrest the killers, Graham was with two of her accomplices. She was in bed, having just serviced one of them, and the other one was just about to get his.

Not only was it Barbara Graham, who bludgeoned elderly Mabel Monohan to death, but she did it with great relish.

I Want to Live! came in the middle of a series of three message movies (four, if you count 1961’s West Side Story) for Wise. In Run Silent, Run Deep (also 1958), an anti-anti-Communist picture, Burt Lancaster played the “fascist” executive officer seeking to usurp the authority of the captain (Clark Gable). And in 1959, Odds against Tomorrow, a race movie disguised as a heist picture, we learn that black bank robbers won’t have a chance to succeed in this world, until they are freed from the yoke of rednecks.



Anonymous said...

"Reporter Gene Blake, who covered Graham's murder trial for the Los Angeles Daily Mirror, dismissed the movie as "a dramatic and eloquent piece of propaganda for the abolition of the death penalty." Los Angeles Herald-Express reporter Bill Walker also exposed the inaccuracies of the film in his article in the April 1959 issue of Cavalier, "Exposing Hollywood's 'I Want to Live' Hoax", and in a 1961 book titled The Case of Barbara Graham.

Graham was portrayed by actress Lindsay Wagner in a 1983 TV movie of I Want to Live!"

David In TN said...

The piece in now-destroyed Crime Library on Barbara Graham was book-length and written by Clark Howard, author of Zebra (1979), on the 1970s NOI murders. I believe Howard wrote it as a true crime book but couldn't find a publisher. So it ended up at Crime Library. It would be nice if somebody would publish it.

Anonymous said...

She was guilty. She started the ball rolling by tricking her way into the house of the older woman who was targeted. Even if she did not actually kill she is more guilty as she was the instigator.

David In TN said...

TCM's Film Noir of the Week Returns! This week's entry Saturday Morning-Sunday Night at Midnight and 10 am ET is Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958 Extended Version. It features Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich.

Film Noir Guide: "The honeymoon of a Mexican detective (Heston) and his American bride (Leigh) gets cut short when a bomb planted in a car on the Mexican side of the border explodes on the American side, killing a wealthy American and his stripper girlfriend. A legendary gringo detective (Welles) takes charge of the investigation, quickly fingering a Mexican national for the crime. Heston hangs around long enough to learn that Welles' investigation tactics are somewhat shady if not downright illegal. The corrupt American cop must resort to extreme measures to keep his Mexican counterpart quiet. Meanwhile, Tamiroff, the American brother of a Mexican crime lord, attempts to blackmail Heston into dropping the charges against his brother by photographing Leigh in a compromising situation. Dietrich plays a Mexican gypsy, Welles' former girlfriend. Look for cameos by Joseph Cotten as a police doctor, Zsa Zsa Gabor as the owner of a strip club, and Mercedes McCambridge as a butch biker."

"While Heston may seem miscast as a Mexican cop, he actually turns in a fine performance, avoiding the use of a phony accent. Calleia is excellent as Welles' loyal partner, who is so blinded by his devotion to the man who once took a bullet for him that he's oblivious to Welles' crimes. But it's Welles, at his biggest and grubbiest, who deserves top honors, playing an egocentric, obese, racist, alcoholic cop, who long ago learned to rationalize his phony arrests."

"Forty years after the film was made, changes that were requested by Welles in his now famous 58-page memo to Universal studios, written after the studio shot additional scenes and re-edited the film. Unfortunately, studio execs ignored Welles' impassioned pleas. the 1998 director's cut, with its subtle changes, improves the already near perfect film. Some film historians point to Touch of Evil as the last film of the classic noir period."

Some years ago Eddie Muller intro'd Touch of Evil and wailed that Ricardo Montalban should have played to lead instead of Charlton Heston. Without Heston the studio wouldn't have financed it.

In the novel, the film is supposedly based on, the Heston character is an American with the San Diego DAs office. His wife is a Mexican from a wealthy family south of the border. Welles reverses this with an honest Mexican law enforcement officer married to an American woman contending with a corrupt American cop.