Realizing what a technical `tour de force' this film is begins when one finds out that much of this film, though it looks like it was shot mostly on location in New York, was actually filmed in Fox's Studio, Stage 8. What a superb job by all the crew, especially director Henry Hathaway, cinematographer Joe MacDonald, and film editor Dorothy Spencer. I wouldn't be surprised to find that those with a fear of heights have difficulty watching it; it looks very realistic.
On the surface, our story involves Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart). The film begins with a series of locational and studio shots that emphasize loneliness and desolation. Soon, Cosick is outside his hotel room, on a ledge, which is on the 15th floor. A woman's scream alerts Police Officer Charlie Dunnigan (Paul Douglas), who is on traffic detail at the time, that there is a `jumper'. After a quick phone call into police headquarters, Dunnigan rushes to the scene, and is the first to usefully help Cosick. One gets the feeling that he could have had him off the ledge had not the police (led by Howard Da Silva) started pouring into the room, exciting the high-strung Cosick.
The authorities and behavioural specialists try to establish who `the jumper' is and why he might be in trouble. Eventually, Cosick's mother (Agnes Moorehead), his father (Robert Keith), and his ex-fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes) are called up to talk to him. Unfortunately, his mother and father are part of the reason that he is up there, and the apparent reason why his relationships all fail.
In a way, Cosick is there to counterpoint what is going on around him. Being a film noir, there is a certain amount of cynicism. But for all the selfishness, cynicism, and despair the film contains, there is also a lot of hope. Grace Kelly, in her first role (a small one), was on her way to get a divorce finalized when she saw Cosick on the ledge and thought how her own situation was not really that bad: the couple reconcile. Elsewhere Debra Paget and Jeffrey Hunter meet in the crowd and fall in love. Hunter says that beautiful things can spring from the greatest tragedies: he and Paget usually went to work at different times and never would have met otherwise.
On yet another level, this John Paxton screenplay is most assuredly, IMO, a critique of contemporary American society. But it can also simply be savoured for the humanism and superb performance of Paul Douglas as Officer Dunnigan.