I WANT TO LIVE (1958): This ‘courtroom’ drama is based on the real-life involving convicted murderess, Barbara Graham. Produced by Walter Wanger, and directed by Robert Wise (yes – the same Robert wWise who directed The Sound of Music), with a screenplay by Nelson Gidding and Don Mankiewicz, based on newspaper articles by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ed Montgomery, and letter Barbara Graham. Whilst it would seem that the real Barbara Graham was actually guilty, nonetheless, the version follows its sources (Montgomery and Graham) that mounts an argument for Graham’s innocence and presents as passionate, opportunistic and reckless but also the victim of brutish masculine manipulation. The soundtrack, featuring a jazz music score by Johnny Mandel, as well as Gerry Mulligan and his band, is excellent and was very popular when the film was released. It set a new standard and set exerted a considerable influence in regard to the use of jazz music in film.
It is, however, the final scenes that perhaps the real purpose behind the film becomes clear, and as is suggested in the title, is a highly emotional and taunt critique of the torturous path to the gas chamber, the death penalty for murder in this film. It is also highly crtical of the press and the perverse public fascination with the press. It uses the device of news reports via the newspaper as well as television, which was a relatively new means of mass communication at the time. The final scenes are truly harrowing, particularly because of the performance by Susan Hayward.
Susan Hayward won an Best Actress Academy Award for performance, and she is absolutely terrific. It is bold, at times audacious performance, in the classic American film noir realistic style. She follows the tragic path with great emotional attack. Despite the melodramatic nature of the narrative, nonetheless, Susan Hayward doesn’t sentimentalize the character but portrays her with a considerable range. likable and dislikable, selfish, foolish, and vulnerable; as mentioned the final scenes are truly extraordinary. You keep hoping for the best, you are led down that path for a number of times, it is torturous.