Unswerving, uneasy, unbeatable crime melodrama with a shattering Susan Hayward gathering all her glory into a performance without one false note. For devotees of Miss Hayward, this is the one to study; it feels and looks like life.
The nasty plot has Hayward playing real-life Barbara Graham, whose sensational trial brought her a conviction and death sentence that made her a nationwide cause celebre. The film depicts Graham, the product of a broken home, as a classic bad girl: perjurer, prostitute, thief. She arrives in San
Francisco and is quickly sent to prison for falsely testifying to help out a friend. When released, she contacts two gamblers on the recommendation of fellow inmates. The gamblers, Coolidge and Krugman, use her as a shill; Hayward steers gullible suckers into their crooked card games and begins to
make big money. With a bank account, Hayward decides to go straight, but she makes the mistake of marrying corrupt Lau--one of Coolidge's associates--and he introduces her to drugs. By the time she has a baby, she is an addict and her husband takes her last $10 for a fix. She leaves him and goes
back to work for Coolidge and Krugman, with tragic results.
Hayward's performance is so intense, and the film so grim, it's exhausting watching her suffer through one agony after another. Wise directs with the perspective that Hayward/Graham was innocent all along, although the film offers little evidence to support this claim (the most insistent being
Graham's repeated and vociferous insistence of her innocence), a stance that brought universal criticism from law enforcement agencies. For the most part, the hapless heroine is convincingly portrayed as a social victim. Hayward had been denied the Oscar for many deserving performances in the
past--SMASH-UP, THE STORY OF A WOMAN, MY FOOLISH HEART, I'LL CRY TOMORROW--but this time the Academy could not ignore her bravura. The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent and believable. Wise's direction is relentlessly gloomy and swift, telling Graham's story in adroitly crafted scenes; mention
should also be made of Gerry Mulligan's fine rendering of Johnny Mandel's classic jazz soundtrack.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Unswerving, uneasy, unbeatable crime melodrama with a shattering Susan Hayward gathering all her glory into a performance without one false note. For devotees of Miss Hayward, this is the one to study; it feels and looks like life. The nasty plot has Hayw… (more)
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