14 Hours (Fox Film Noir)
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Film noir, a classic film style of the 40s and 50s, is noted for its dark themes, stark camera angles and high-contrast lighting. Comprising many of Hollywoods finest films, film noir tells realistic stories about crime, mystery, femmes fatales and conflict.
This compelling suspense drama spends its time with a tormented young man (Richard Basehart) as he teeters on a New York hotels 15th floor window ledge, deciding whether or not to jump. Paul Douglas plays a traffic cop, the first officer on the scene, and through his gentle, compassionate talk, he becomes the only one the man on the ledge trusts. He certainly doesnt trust his mother (Agnes Moorehead) or ex-fiancée (Barbara Bel Geddes). The crowd below is mesmerized and for some, the fourteen hours that follow will change their lives forever. This film is notable for the film debut of Grace Kelly in a small role.
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Director Henry Hathaway, however, in FOURTEEN HOURS (1951) guides the drama and urban tensions with such sure-handed craftsmanship, that this ledge jumper based film has remained almost as powerfully involving and suspenseful today as it was 55 years ago.
Furthermore, Hathaway gives FOURTEEN HOURS a master's touch by utilizing his own established and innovative semidocumentary style (see THE HOUSE ON 92nd STREET (1945); KISS OF DEATH (1947)). Thus, FOURTEEN HOURS, with its low-keyed black-and-white cinematography, effectively captures a segment of Manhattan's dramatically restless urban world in moody noir fashion.
And in addition, strong performances abound.
Especially noteworthy is Richard Basehart (the cause of all the commotion) as the disturbed 14hr. ledge occupant way way up on the fifteenth floor of a Manhattan hotel on St. Patrick's Day. (Actually, all this is based on a true incident; the film realistically depicts the sensationalistic media frenzy surrounding the event, with news-starved reporters everywhere, and some crude, insensitive behavior by numerous spectators).
Paul Douglas likewise shines in his role as a traffic cop who tries to keep Basehart from jumping.
Also, Barbara Bel Geddes is impressive (and eloquently gentle) as Basehart's former fiancee.
The many-faceted spectator emotions (some quite strong) on the street and surroundings set other little dramas in motion.
Here even Grace Kelly makes her film debut, as a maritally unhappy spectator observing and reacting to Basehart's plight above. Debra Paget and Jeffrey Hunter are also nearby.
By all means, add this fascinating and strongly fatalistic noir to your collection. Here are 5 stars to welcome its DVD appearance in such excellent condition.
I find the filming to be exceptional; the location shots adding great credibility to the story. Great movie!
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.