We’ve reached the end of the fifties and the end of another great Noir City festival. But before I get to the flicks, allow me to remind you once again that if you love Film Noir and enjoy following my posts every year, you really ought to support the Film Noir Foundation. You can support the preservation and restoration of these great movies and score all kinds of cool swag while you’re at it. So go throw em a few simoleons, willya? I’ll wait.
Right, ok, let’s go. First film of the last night: I WANT TO LIVE.
This is the true life, ripped-from-the-headlines story of a party girl named Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward) who gets mixed up in petty crimes like prostitution, narcotics and passing bad checks. She tries to go straight for the sake of her baby, but when she’s deserted by her good-for-nothing hubby, she has no choice but to get involved in one last score. The robbery of an old, crippled woman goes wrong, the victim is killed, and our brazen bad girl ends up on death row at San Quentin.
It had been a long time since I’d seen this one, and being a lot older and closer to the Big Sleep than I was back then, it struck me on a much deeper level this time around. When I first saw it, I liked it well enough but also thought it was kinda melodramatic, more over-the-top camp than noir. Now, on second viewing, it felt so much heavier. Darker and more nuanced. I’m also less sure now about whether or not the movie intended to portray her as guilty or innocent. And more sure that in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
Susan Hayward gives an Academy Award winning performance as a woman who is both brash and vulnerable. A shameless grifter and a devoted mother. Barbara is a rare female anti-hero. A deeply flawed person that has many unlikeable traits, and yet you find yourself really caring about her and feeling profoundly invested in her fate. Even when you already know what happened to the real Barbara.
In a way, knowing that her execution is inevitable makes the agonizing eleventh hour delays in the last quarter of the film that much more intense, almost unbearable. That emotional rollercoaster is perfectly set off by all the meticulous, workaday detail of the mechanics, chemistry and bureaucracy of operating the gas chamber.
And maybe I’m just primed to see it now, after finding a strong theme of female friendship in PLAYGIRL, but I noticed it here too. Men are mostly untrustworthy louses in this film. They’ll rough you up, judge you for making them want you and let you take the rap for their fuck ups. There are shady dames too, and a few well-meaning guys who tried to make a difference, but when you’re on death row with only a few hours left, it’s one of those rare, ride-or-die sisters who will really be there for you.
So yeah, you should see it, but make sure you have a dog that you can pet or something else that makes you happy after it’s over, because damn. You’re gonna need it.
Last of the last: CRY TOUGH.
Not only have I seen this one before, I’ve written it up here on the blog. It isn’t easy to find, but if you can, you should see it.
And, no real spoilers here, but I’m glad that Alan and Eddie decided to end this year’s line up with not one, but two unhappy endings. Which is how it fucking should be.
That’s it for 2019, Faustketeers. For more wiseass noir commentary, you can stay in touch with me throughout the year on social media and don’t forget to tune in (or set your DVRs) to TCM’s Noir Alley every Saturday night at midnight eastern, nine pacific, to get your fix. Until next year, like Eddie always says, I’ll see you in the shadows.