Arrested for fatally beating an elderly widow, Barbara Graham (Hayward) at first goads the police, refusing to answer their questions. But when an alleged accomplice turns state's evidence, Graham insists that she's innocent. Condemned by the press and the public, Graham is found guilty of murder and sentenced to die in the gas chamber. But as her execution date nears, Graham desperately attempts to expose the truth and save her life against all odds. Fact from the Vault: In addition to winning the Oscar® for Best Actress, I Want to Live! received Academy Award® nominations for Best Director, Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography (B&W), Sound, and Editing.
"I Want to Live!" tells the story of Barbara Graham, a wild party girl with a rap sheet a mile long who was convicted of murder in the early 1950's and executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin Penitentiary. The script whitewashes Graham's story, painting her as a more sympathetic character (i.e., "innocent") than she had been in real life, but Hayward comes through with a gutsy tour de force performance that provides the film with just the right amount of gritty toughness that elevates it out of the league of soap opera. Her Barbara Graham may be a "victim" of circumstances and a flawed legal system, but she is also loud, vulgar, crude, flippant, and antisocial, often working against her own best interests. And Hayward never hits a false note, provoking the audience to a strange mixture of contempt and compassion, repulsion and attraction.Read more ›
The dialog and plot are excellent and her scenes as the condemned woman hours from execution are still extremely powerful today. In some ways, Susan Hayward was at her very best, and with the perfect script, a rare combination. You still sit there rooting for her to get that stay of execution in the movie, the movie grabs you that much. I've watched this film about 10 times, she never gets the stay, but the situations are so real, you root for one every time.
The only thing that to me does not make this Miss Hayward's best role (apart from maybe a handful of scenes) is that Barbara Graham, the real-life death-row inmate portrayed here, was a low-budget, crude, herion addict who got along by using men, doing petty thefts and sometimes being a prostitute, and I don't mean the $100 an hour ones that come to your hotel room. We're talking low-class street woman. Miss Hayward is nothing of the kind, she doesn't have that look or manner.Read more ›
The film has a stark, realistic look, an excellent script, a pounding jazz score, and a strong supporting cast--but it is Susan Hayward's legendary performance that makes the film work. She gives us a Graham who is half gun moll, half good time girl, and tough as nails all the way through--but who is nonetheless likeable, perhaps even admirable in her flat rebellion against a sickeningly hypocritical and repulsively white-bread society. Although Hayward seems slightly artificial in the film's opening scenes, she quickly rises to the challenge of the role and gives an explosive performance as notable for its emotional hysteria as for its touching humanity.
As the story moves toward its climax, the detail with which director Wise shows preparations for execution in the gas chamber and the intensity of Hayward's performance add up to one of the most powerful sequences in film history.Read more ›