I Soil Easily: Our Critics Discuss I Want to Live! (for Parterre Box)

Cameron Kelsall: A few weeks ago, David, when we were contemplating classic films we wanted to write about, two titles came to the fore: Double Indemnity and I Want to Live! Both, we reasoned, centered on murderesses and tapped into prominent genres of moviemaking in the 1940s and ‘50s: film noir, true crime and melodrama. Having now revisited both films, that is really where the similarities end. Double Indemnity is a classic caper—it doesn’t try to be anything except what it is. I Want to Live! adds a thick layer of social realism onto the crime story, complete with a moralizing quote from Albert Camus about the sanctity of life in a free society that opens the proceedings. It’s fascinatingly weird and discursive in many ways, especially as an unapologetically political, anti–death penalty piece of agitprop at the height of the law-and-order Eisenhower era. And although Barbara Stanwyck and Susan Hayward are both great stars, each giving an unforgettable and unique performance, they come about their power in different ways.

David Fox: The tonal shifts here are enormous, and they start from the very beginning. As you say, a quote from no less than Albert Camus (he had won the Nobel Prize in 1957, one year before this movie)… followed moments later by the production company, Figaro Film, cute cartoon insignia, accompanied by some cheerful piano riffing on the Mozart overture. No sooner is that finished than we move into one of the truly great jazz film scores, composed by Johnny Mandel with a group of legendary musicians including Gerry Mulligan and Shelly Mann (both of whom make cameo appearances) and a visual world full of noir edginess. The setting is a nightclub, and we know it’s hip because everything is shot at an angle. It’s a lot to take in… and we haven’t even gotten to Susan Hayward yet! I have to say I struggle with I Want to Live! The camp appeal of it—including Hayward’s performance—is undeniable… yet it’s also a sincere and even important movie. Watching it this time, I realized that the Rosenberg execution had happened only five years earlier. It’s often an awkward movie, but sometimes a major one. Much the same could be said of Hayward’s Oscar-winning performance…

Click here to read the full post at Parterre Box.

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