User Reviews (67)

  • Lechuguilla14 June 2005
    Black And White And Shades Of Gray
    This is the story of Barbara Graham, party girl and petty criminal, who was charged, along with two men, in the March, 1953, real life slaying of Mabel Monohan, a wealthy and elderly widow who lived in Burbank, California. Technically, "I Want To Live" is a high quality production. It has excellent B&W photography, superb editing, a jazzy score; and, it features Susan Hayward's Oscar winning performance as Barbara Graham, a young woman portrayed as independent-minded, tough as nails, feisty, defiant, vulnerable, and a good mother.

    Both at the beginning and at the end of this Robert Wise directed film the viewer is informed that the story is "factual". But the screenplay never delves into the actual "facts" of the murder. We don't learn anything about the victim, her relationships, the crime scene, or any of a thousand important details that must surely have surrounded this high profile case. Instead, the film focuses entirely on Graham, and goes out of its way to portray her as innocent, in the Monohan murder.

    Even a cursory review of available literature suggests that the film, while "factual" in some respects, is fictional in others. For example, in reality, the police did not capture Graham and her two male friends in a warehouse at night, as the film portrays; they captured the three in a seedy apartment in daytime. The film omits her addiction to heroin. In more than one way, the film presents Graham sympathetically, and as a victim of the criminal justice system. There's an interesting story about the film's producer, and his motivations for making this film the way he did.

    Nevertheless, I am not convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she was guilty, mainly because I do not have access to the detailed "facts" of the Monohan case. After all these years, the truth regarding the murder has become cloudy, obscure.

    It is the thick fog surrounding the real life case that makes the film's final thirty minutes so gut-wrenching, as we await Barbara Graham's fate. Suspense is heightened by a deadline-induced outcome that will either be black or white, all or nothing, but certainly not gray. In setting out to portray a woman wrongly accused of murder, the filmmakers have thus created an ending that is amazingly effective.

    "I Want To Live" is a well made Hollywood production with riveting suspense. But keep in mind the film presents only the case for the defense, which may or may not be consistent with the truth.
  • mlhouk928 October 2000
    10/10
    Powerful It Is.
    Susan Hayward's powerful performance as Barbara Graham has been much written about, and it is the single best part of this film. But there are so many other perfectly pitched performances surrounding her as well, mostly by actors relatively unknown even to film buffs, or early turns by actors whose faces, if not names, did find a national audience--Virginia Vincent as Peg (she played the mother in The Hills Have Eyes), Gas chamber guard Dabbs Greer (the Rev. on Little House on the Prairie and Picket Fences), and especially Raymond Bailey who plays the San Quentin warden. His understated forthrightness and humaneness are a far cry from his later manic turn as Mr Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies (with the addition of a toupee). Robert Wise handles the execution preparations with a clinicism that turns the stomach more than any posturing would do, bringing the horror of impending death home. And following the clock's second with a moving camera closeup, instead of just cutting to the clock on the wall, done so many times, is craftsmanship of the highest order.
  • dbdumonteil2 October 2001
    9/10
    Wise+Heyward=a must.
    Warning: Spoilers
    Let's begin with the minus side.This is necessarily a one-side movie,because Barbara Graham is deemed innocent whereas nobody knows exactly the truth.And the movie does not help much for that matter:we know little of Graham's life before her arrest:a woman of easy virtue,but this is not enough to convince;her background,her childhood,everything is overshadowed.

    However,this is a tour de force of a movie.Robert Wise,one of the masters of film noir,was the man who could pull off this harsh story,because he had always been a restrained director,and mainly,mainly,because,he was one of these artists who could make the best of black and white;I will only mention one scene:the arrest:Barbara is holding a soft toy,and she faces a blinding searchlight,while a jazz music is heard.Eerie indeed.

    Susan Hayward,at her peak,is fabulous.I can't think of another actor or actress who gave such a heart-wrenching,such a harrowing performance as far as the death row is concerned(Sean Penn is her closer contender,in his extraordinary "dead man walking" part).

    The "preparations" of the gas chamber are detailed with an unbearable accuracy:nothing is spared the audience.Wise was not the first to depict

    the capital execution:André Cayatte did it before in "nous sommes tous des assassins"(1952)but he used too many characters and the movie seems today obsolete,and not only because the death penalty was abolished in France in 1981.Then José Giovanni in "deux hommes dans la ville"(1972),and the best French attempt "le pull-over rouge" (Michel Drach,1979) the latter based on a true story like Graham's.This movie remains commendable,the French TV never showed it,that speaks volumes. Two American movies tackled the topic in the nineties:"the last dance"(Sharon Stone being the only asset) and the already mentioned (and much better ) "dead man's walking".

    Nothing comes close to Wise's and Heyward 's collaboration.Forget your bias and watch these two artists show us what the seventh art can achieve.
  • gftbiloxi24 April 2005
    8/10
    Bravado Performance In Intense Drama
    Barbara Graham was a known prostitute with criminal associates. In the early 1950s, Graham and two men were accused of and arrested for the brutal murder of elderly Mable Monahan during the course of a robbery. Convicted and sentenced to death in California's gas chamber, Graham protested her innocence to the end--and many considered that she was less a criminal than a victim of circumstance and that she had been railroaded to conviction and execution. The celebrated 1958 film I WANT TO LIVE follows this point of view, presenting Graham as a thoroughly tough gal who in spite of her background was essentially more sinned against than sinner, and the result is an extremely intense, gripping film that shakes its viewers to the core.

    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 likable, 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. Ironically, Hayward privately stated that her own research led her to believe that Graham was guilty as sin--and today most people who have studied the case tend to believe that Graham was guilty indeed. But whether the real-life Barbara Graham was innocent or guilty, this is a film that delivers one memorable, jolting, and very, very disturbing ride. Strongly recommended, but not for the faint of heart.

    Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
  • julianhwescott25 January 2000
    10/10
    One of the American tragedies because it's a true story!
    Filmed in stark black and white as I think all films of this nature should be, one sees the stark realism unfold of a woman's already messed up and sad life become a pitiful situation of which there isn't a return. One of America's real true tragedies where a woman is used as a pawn by the judicial system so that the State of California can really punish those that should have been and were punished. If it weren't for Barbara Graham's final outcome, the bad guys would still be alive today. If you are like me and love criminology and hate injustice, you must see this picture. Susan Hayward gave the performance of a lifetime and deservedly won the Oscar for best actress. The piece has this blues/jazzy type of music in the background which I think makes the film more realistic because it was the type of music that Barbara Graham loved. Do yourself a favor and see this one.
  • Ray H.30 September 2009
    10/10
    This hidden masterpiece seems contemporary
    This seems like a documentary film and is so powerful and persuasive that all the viewers would be forced to concentrate on it. Susan Hayward, a Hollywood actor out of Hollywood actors, is never trying to act well, but only "exists" in the film. She really deserved an Oscar of this year. All the other supporting actors are so real that they do not look like actors. Thus this film looks so contemporary that we cannot believe it was shot 50 years ago. Whether the ending is happy or not, such method of filming gives us a strong impression which lasts for a long time. I adore this film, which must be one of the best Robert Wise films, and it is a pity that relatively few people have seen it. I would be most delighted to advise all my friends and acquaintances to see it.
  • Chuck-14919 September 1999
    7/10
    An extraordinary performance by Susan Hayward.
    Warning: Spoilers
    Many people recognize Susan Hayward as a great actress but if you ask them in what movie they thought she was remarkable, they'll usually tell you that they can't remember any particular classic in which she played. They'll tell you that they think she is a great actress for all the movies and roles in her career. Let's face it. She never played in a classic. There isn't one movie on AFI's top 100 list that stares her. But if you ask anybody what her best performance was, anybody will answer that it was her role as Barbara Graham in "I want to live". Sure the movie's not a classic. But she totally deserved the best actress Oscar she won for her role in it.

    Barbara Graham (Hayward) is a tough, wisecracking prostitute. A real party-girl. Even when she gets arrested for murder, she keeps on joking around and p***ing-off the cops. But when she realizes that this thing is going to court and that if she's convicted, she could be executed in the gas-chamber, she doesn't see things the same way anymore. And when she thinks she has found a man that is willing to testify that she was with him on the night of the murder, he gets her to tell him that she was present at the scene of the crime. She tells him all this. But when he is summoned in court, he is the prosecution's witness and he appears to be a cop who has trapped her into telling all the evidence the prosecution needs to convict her.

    Robert Wise's directing is pretty good but the two things that make this one worth watching are the music and Hayward's performance. John Mandel's choice of the blues for the music is excellent and allows us to hang on with Barbara until her very last second alive. Be forewarned: This one is 100% of a tear-jerker and requires nerves of steel to make it through the whole thing without crying. If you like Hayward, see it at all costs. However, Robert Wise has directed some better ones like "West side story" for example. But still, it's pretty good.
  • williwaw1 July 2010
    10/10
    Academy Award Winner Susan Hayward
    We all honor and respect Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck for their great performances. Each of them especially liked the work of Susan Hayward. As Susan Hayward lay dying of brain cancer none other than Garbo showed up at Susan Haywad's house to pay respects in person! As did Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck.

    Walter Wanger's I Want To Live, in black and white, with a great jazz score and expertly directed by Robert Wise and photographed by Lionel Lindon is the peak of Susan Hayward's acting career. As most actresses and a few stars Susan Hayward had well known "tricks" but for this movie Ms. Hayward played this role as naturally as Susan Hayward ever played any role. Susan Hayward dominates this movie and is brilliant in a career noted for great acting.

    Susan Hayward won the New York Film Critics, National Board of Review, Golden Globe and awards in France and Italy, for her performance in this movie, all leading up to her deserved Oscar win for I Want To Live. Susan Hayward was called back for a curtain call, the only time I can recall that happening for her great win.
  • blanche-215 August 2005
    8/10
    powerful and unrelenting film
    Warning: Spoilers
    "I Want To Live" is a powerful albeit fictional account of the Barbara Graham case. Graham was accused of murdering a Mrs. Monahan along with two male colleagues during a robbery. In the story, they had her take the rap for the murder, figuring a woman would never be given the death penalty. They figured wrong. Not only did she get it, but we see her get it in agonizing detail at the end of the film.

    This was tough stuff for 1958. Susan Hayward does a great job, although I have to admit that my favorite performance of hers remains "I'll Cry Tomorrow." Nevertheless, she sinks her teeth into this role. There are different opinions among those posting reviews here about her acting. Granted, Hayward was of her time, and this is not the kind of performance one would see today. She was an overt actress where, for instance, Olivia de Havilland was more subtle. Nevertheless, she's excellent. She's playing Barbara Graham, a prostitute, drinker, and good time girl, and the performance fits that woman's tough character. Could Hayward overdo the histrionics? Sure, but she generally didn't with a good director, and she had one here in Robert Wise.

    Barbara Graham in real life was on her fourth marriage and apparently involved sexually with her two compatriots - she was in the nude when she was arrested with them at their hotel. She also was a heroin addict. Though the film allows you to believe that she was present during the killing but didn't actually do it, the real Barbra Graham supposedly did confess to the warden of the prison.

    No matter how you feel about the death penalty, or Barbara Graham's guilt or innocence, this film will have a powerful effect on you. You won't forget it.
  • bkoganbing2 November 2005
    10/10
    A Role That Comes Along Once in a Lifetime
    I Want to Live was a film from it's inception was guaranteed to create controversy. There are all kinds of opinions about the death penalty and it's application all over the world. Barbara Graham's story, so fresh in the minds of the movie going public in 1958, was going to be a source of controversy.

    Did she actually kill the widow Monahan? The film cleverly sidesteps that issue in the screenplay. What exactly was Graham's role in the botched robbery? All the people who could actually tell us are dead. Should a woman be subject to capital punishment. Ethel Rosenberg went to the electric chair on less evidence than Graham and for a crime that was not a homicide.

    But all these questions aside, there is one absolute in this film. Susan Hayward gave a performance that must have been inspired by the angels. From the first half of the film dealing with her early life, the homicide she was charged with until the second half covering her sentence and her attempts to avoid the gas chamber, Hayward will keep you glued to your seat.

    I can't imagine another actress in this part. She of course was the Best Actress for 1958, but in my lifetime only Hillary Swank in her role in Boys Don't Cry was the Oscar ever conceded before the envelope was opened at the ceremony. EVERYONE knew that both Hayward and Swank were winners going in, that's how good both of them were.

    Susan Hayward was simply the best at her job. She had a number of great parts in Fifties and a few clinkers at the height of her career. But to get the Oscar for the part that was her signature role, made the ceremonies in 1959 a great occasion.

    She's got a good cast of supporting players in I Want to Live, Simon Oakland, Theodore Bikel, Wesley Lau, Phillip Coolidge. But it is Hayward's film totally.

    A part like Barbara Graham given to an actress like Susan Hayward only comes along once or twice in a lifetime. Don't miss this one, however you feel about capital punishment.
  • Steffi_P18 December 2009
    9/10
    "Believe me, it's purely personal"
    Good cinema has rhythm. Most classic cinema moves to the flow of orchestral film music, but for a certain kind of picture in the mid-50s to mid-60s, the images would skip to the modish sounds of bossa nova and free jazz. This isn't the most melodic or listenable music ever created, and often it was used simply to be hip and different. However, I Want to Live! has a jazz score that runs right through the picture, regulating its pace and complementing its relentlessly gritty tone.

    The picture opens in a jazz club, in a short sequence which has nothing to do with the plot, but sets the scene. From this point on, a musical feel pervades the picture. The director is Robert Wise, an exceptional but seldom recognised filmmaker whose pictures had always been sensitive to rhythm, and would later win Oscars for directing musicals. Wise was an expert when it came to matching music, image and performance. In an early scene with a party aboard a boat, we hear some staccato Latin American music. The frame seems excessively crowded and filled with movement, while the lighting gives numerous shades of grey. The whole thing appears natural, but also looks precisely choreographed to the rhythm of the scene. At other times we get a slow, moody melody, and here the tones are stark and the movements lethargic. Even in scenes without music, there is a complex and eerie sound design of closing doors, photographers' flashes, telephone rings and suchlike, not to mention the sharp vocal delivery. This rhythmic approach, which is always present but never seems overdone, adds character to each moment, gives abrupt changes between scenes, and makes the whole picture fast-moving. Some commentators on Wise's career try to draw a line separating films like this from West Side Story, Sound of Music and so forth, but Wise's style and intention is consistent.

    But the central pillar in I Want to Live! is of course the captivating performance of Susan Hayward. Hayward's acting is the size of a house, and she absolutely dominates the screen. However it is the littlest things that make this performance work – a tiny flash of her eyes or shrug of her shoulders. These small things are what bring out our sympathy for the character, while it is the powerhouse acting that gives the picture its passion. So overpowering is Hayward, that every other performance becomes somewhat forgettable. Except that is for Simon Oakland, who is rather impressive in his film debut, with a role which is complex because there is often a discrepancy between what his character says and what he is really feeling. Lou Krugman is also very memorable in his small role as Jack Santo, simply because he comes across as genuinely menacing and sadistic. No-one else really stands out, but at least no-one is conspicuously bad, and besides it helps to have a supporting cast that is a little bland because you would not want anyone to upstage Hayward.

    We will never know for sure, but it is now widely agreed that the real Barbara Graham was in fact guilty, and while this movie never openly commits itself either way, it makes every allowance for the likelihood of her being innocent. However, the point of I Want to Live! was probably not to exonerate Barbara Graham, it was instead to demonstrate the horror and inhumanity of the death penalty. What matters is that we are convinced of the humanity of the character, and the desolateness of the situation. The ins and outs of the case are never really clearly defined, whereas the tone and force of the picture most definitely is.
  • whpratt16 March 2006
    10/10
    Susan Hayward was Fantastic
    Always enjoyed most of the films that Susan Hayward appeared in and her acting was outstanding and she was a very beautiful lady of the Silver Screen. In this True to Live Story, Susan plays, Barbara Graham,(Valley of the Dolls",'67, who loves life, having a good time and also a con-artist who does petty things. However, Barbara gets involved with some so called friends who sort of sell her down the river and her life becomes very complicated and at times very tragic. Susan Hayward holds the picture together with outstanding acting and portrays the horrible facts of life Barbara Graham had to encounter in all kinds of disappointing situations. Great film, don't miss it.
  • AndersonWhitbeck10 December 2007
    10/10
    ....and the winner is Susan Hayward for " I Want To Live"
    I surely hope someone somewhere can retrieve the great night Susan Hayward won her Oscar...I recall Kim Novak and James Cagney presenting the Oscar with Kim Novak in her fabulous voice asking Mr. Cagney to "hurry up" when he sliced open the envelope, as Cagney saying "And the Winner is Susan Hayward for "I Want To Live". Thunderous applause and Susan Hayward was in fact called back for a curtain call. Has that ever happened before or since? ( It was no easy win for Susan Hayward was competing with Four fine actresses Liz Taylor, Roz Russell, Deborah Kerr and Shirley MacLaine all in well regarded performances)

    I cannot imagine any actress other than Susan Hayward in this part. Robert Wise expert direction creates enormous tension as we know that Susan's character is going to die in the gas chamber.

    Susan Hayward, Robert Wise, Producer Walter Wanger, and cinematographer Lionel Linden deserve great applause for their fine work. Filmed at Goldwyn Studio not Susan Hayward's home studio 20th, I always felt this gave her both more freedom to lose some of her famous 'on camera tricks' and experiment more, and also sans Hayward's usual crew she may have felt more vulnerable..whatever Hayward's performance is a wonder and all actors and actresses should study Susan Hayward's fine work in this film.

    Robert Osborne on TCM praises this performance as one especially noteworthy in the history of female film acting. Ms. Hayward won the New York Film Critics and Golden Globe Awards prior to her great Oscar win.

    Ms. Hayward died nearly 40 years ago yet Ms. Hayward's work remains topical and powerfully moving. Few could show the agony of a woman the way Ms. Hayward could. Her death at a relatively early age deprived us of many more performances from an Artist noted for brilliant work.
  • jollyhoo1 January 1999
    Great Performance by Susan Hayward
    Her acting in this movie has to be one of the greatest performances that she has ever done on film.The proof of the pudding shows the results. I saw the ACADEMY AWARDS for that year, after seeing the movie there was no doubt in my mind that she did indeed deserve the OSCAR.
  • Boyo-28 November 1999
    Who Killed Mrs. Monahan?
    This movie is in black & white, has a jazzy score and a great central performance by Susan Hayward. She has many great lines of dialogue, most of which are spit out, and she plays the part for all its worth. The last half hour is completely engrossing. See it and then you'll remember it forever.
  • SuzieQ25 October 1999
    This is a powerful movie!
    It has been a long time since I saw this movie, but I still remember parts of it like yesterday. It makes my stomache churn because of the reality of it. It actually happened. Shows how mistakes can be made. It is a very moving and gut wrenching story and because you know it is true, it makes you not want to see it again. You can remember forever.
  • Jay0910195121 July 2003
    Susan Hayward at her best!
    After seeing this movie a few times I was able to get a DVD copy of it. It is one of the best, if not the best movie about death row. The final scenes in the gas chamber are the most realistic i have ever seen of an execution. The movie uses real information supplied by The newsman who followed the case from the start and by Barbra Graham herself. After watching her in the gas chamber,it's very easy ro see why Susan Hayward won the Oscar for best actress.
  • boy-133 July 1999
    8/10
    A true dramatic showcase for the fabulous Susan Hayward
    Susan Hayward really knew how to pick a good role. From the intensity of 1947's "Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman", to the gutsiness of 1955's "I'll Cry Tomorrow", to everything in between, Hayward left a legacy of amazing characters. Even when the role was horrid (such as 1967's trash-fest "Valley of the Dolls"), Hayward was a real trooper and made it work. Always one to tackle unusual and, oftentimes, unglamorous roles, Hayward really got a chance to sink her teeth into this one - and received an Oscar for her efforts.

    In this tough-to-take biopic, Hayward plays Barbara Graham, a party girl who gets in over her head with drug use, prostitution, perjury, and various other illegal acts. As a known "goodtime girl", she has a reputation with the local authorities. One brilliant sequence has the police tracking Barbara across town - apparent fellow neighbors are actually tapped and following her every move. Finally, a supposedly innocent "Babs" gets thrown in the slammer for the brutal murder of an elderly woman. Losing her sense of freedom and any contact with her baby boy, Barbara's life goes from bad (on the street) to worse (in jail). Watching Barbara act-up and defy authority in the prison is actually funny, but what happens next to this wild woman is no laughing matter. Things get as bad as they possibly can when Barbara realizes that she may have to face the gas chamber.

    Hayward goes all out in portraying this fascinating character and is totally over-the-top, but completely on target, right up until the very end - and what an ending it is! It'll send shivers up your spine, and the images will linger in your head long after the show is over. The dark, moody photography is top-notch, although the rambunctious jazz score wears out its welcome.
  • Neil Doyle16 January 2011
    7/10
    Powerful drama masterfully directed by Robert Wise...
    Whether Barbara Graham was really framed for murder or not is never really the point of this melodramatic look at a woman on death row, played to the hilt by SUSAN HAYWARD in one of her gutsiest performances. The main point seems to be showing us what a devastating time any prisoner on death row has while waiting for that execution to proceed. And in this, Robert Wise succeeds with his powerful film about the accused murderess Barbara Graham.

    That Hayward can actually make us feel sympathy for her character when she's depicted as a tough-talking, bitter dame who takes no nonsense from anyone (even those trying to help her), is a credit her talent as an actress who never tries to soften her portrayal of the party girl paying for a life of petty crimes that may include murder.

    SIMON OAKLAND as a reporter who begins to have doubts about her guilt, is excellent. There's an almost documentary feel to the whole film and this is partly due to the uniform excellence of the entire cast, all of whom come across as real people. But the main credit must be given to director Robert Wise who does a fine job with some truly harsh material.

    The jazz score background effectively balances the look and feel of the story. Well worth watching as an inside look at how justice sometimes works, while raising questions in the viewer's mind as to Graham's guilt or innocence.
  • mdm-1131 May 2005
    9/10
    Hollywood enters the debate over Capital Punishment
    This powerful crime drama is based on the actual case of Barbara Graham, who was executed in the gas chamber for murder amid debate about the severity of her punishment. Susan Hayward gives a tour-de-force performance as the tough prostitute (for which she won an Oscar) who insists that, if anything, she was no more than a petty criminal framed for murder.

    Robert Wise's direction (nominated for an Oscar) included emphasis on minute detail, most noteworthy being the compelling way in which the particulars of the execution are shown. After viewing this film, viewers on either side of the death penalty issue will search their souls for answers to how they truly feel about a human being's "legal murder", regardless of innocence or guilt.
  • lottatitles6 October 2002
    One of the best actresses of all time!
    I can only assume people not liking this film are either really young or in denial of it's impact...possibly both. Hayward is one of the greats...especially at playing real people, as in I'll Cry Tomorrow and With A Song In My Heart. Long before women were allowing themselves to look and act like this on screen, Hayward was more than willing to. Her dt's scene in I'll Cry Tomorrow has only been done as well by Diana Ross in Lady Sings The Blues. The gas chamber scene in I Want To Live is still one of the most unnerving scenes ever. No one really knows if Barbara Graham was guilty or innocent. It is strange, however, that many people who were screaming for her death...at the end...were convinced she was innocent and had been railroaded by the courts.
  • sjtom4910 March 2002
    Still packs a punch!
    This film shocked movie goer's of the day and still packs a punch. Susan Hayward deservedly won best actress. Based on a true story you can decide for yourself whether she's innocent or guilty but there's no escaping the terrible realities of death row in the final 30 minutes. If you've ever even considered leading a life of crime see this film first. Chances are you'll repent. The jazzy score adds an excellent touch. Not to be missed! 5 out of 5!
  • rosscinema29 September 2004
    7/10
    Hayward's Oscar winning performance
    Warning: Spoilers
    No doubt that some of this film seems dated today but if you stick with it the last 30 minutes should have some sort of an effect on most viewers and it's hard to forget the performance that took home the almighty Oscar. Based on a true story (To some degree) about Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward) who we first see as a prostitute and a check forger who has had numerous run-ins with the law. She tries to change her life and gets married to Henry (Wesley Lau) and they end up having a son but shortly after a year Henry turns out to be a heroin addict and Barbara leaves him. She gets mixed up with two lowlifes and gets arrested and while in jail she learns that she is being tried for the murder of an elderly woman.

    *****SPOILER ALERT*****

    Barbara tells everyone that she is innocent but during her trial the press uses her to sell papers and print horrible things including reporter Ed Montgomery (Simon Oakland) but once the trial is over and the appeals begin he gets involved in the case and starts to write positive things about her. The prison psychiatrist Carl Palmberg (Theodore Bikel) studies her and he concludes that she didn't commit the murder but the endless appeals keep getting turned down until Barbara becomes the first woman to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin.

    This film is directed by the great Robert Wise who actually witnessed a real execution to prepare him for this project and we can see through his direction that it affected him tremendously. While some say that the film has to many supporting characters and takes to long for Hayward to get to jail I thought that the film was just giving the viewer the opportunity to see what kind of person Barbara is. This film was made when method acting was at full steam and critics of Hayward will point out how over the top her performance is but I think she does a terrific job of making this role her own and leaving an indelible mark. At first it was difficult to care for this character but what was very interesting was how Barbara changed from the first half of the film to the second. Barbara can hold her own and battle anyone but once she gets locked up she is forced to trust people and rely on others for help in her cause. Under Wise's direction there is incredible tension built up as Hayward waits for a reprieve and then has to make her final walk to her ultimate execution. I'm not sure if I would call this a great film but it is one that is extremely well made and Hayward delivers the performance of her career.
  • MartianOctocretr515 May 2006
    8/10
    Powerful performance and imagery
    Capital Punishment was, is, and probably always will be immensely controversial. "I Want to Live" offers an argument against the practice, approaching the issue with a fervently emotional message.

    Susan Hayward (perhaps the finest work of her career) portrays the real-life convicted murderess Barbara Graham with urgency, strength, and sensitivity. We follow the story of Graham as she gets in trouble with the law repeatedly. Eventually, she is involved with a couple of thugs; a woman is murdered, and the three are accused. Which one actually killed the woman is uncertain. The movie provides information from Graham's trial (after she is implicated by the other two), but cleverly skirts the issue of guilt, and leaves the viewer to come to one's own opinion about this.

    Whatever your view on capital punishment is, and whether or not you believe Graham was the actual killer should not skew your opinion of the movie; artistically, it's a gem. It is guaranteed to get you thinking about the issue of capital punishment, and some of the questions that are inherent in the arguments for and against it.

    The final sequence of the movie is poignant and eloquent in depicting the preparations for a gas chamber execution. These images are haunting and will stay with you long after you see the movie.

    This movie is artistic and masterfully done; but one must set aside preconceived opinions on the issue (pro OR con) to fully appreciate it.
  • Williliwaw29 April 2006
    10/10
    Miss Hayward Magnficent
    As it was once reported, I can echo, that Susan Hayward gives the finest performance in a career noted for brilliant work.

    The fine work of the great Director Robert Wise is seen here and together Hayward and Wise created one of the screen's greatest drama's and a searing indictment of Capital Punishment. The final scenes in the Jail as Miss Hayward's character Barbara Graham awaits execution are harrowing, and Miss Hayward's control in these scenes is so great that she gets more sympathy than any other actress ever could. I cannot think of anyone who could have done this role as well as Susan Hayward, and it is said Walter Wanger waited a few years to get Susan Hayward to free up her schedule to star in this film

    Miss Hayward loses some of the great tricks she always used in her work and is more natural here. A truly landmark performance. Bravo Susan Hayward. Bravo Robert Wise and Bravo Walter Wanger. RIP
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