Henry Hathaway directed a stellar cast in FOURTEEN HOURS, which chronicles the day-long attempt to save a young man, Robert (Richard Basehart), from jumping off the ledge of a New York City hotel. The movie also examines how the man on the ledge affects those below in the streets and watching from other buildings.
We put this DVD in quite late this evening, after I wrapped up work for the night, thinking we might check out the start and finish it tomorrow. It was so engrossing we had to stick with it till the conclusion! One might not expect a movie about a fairly disturbing topic to be so appealing, but it was a very fine film which really needs to be seen in one sitting.
The wonderful Paul Douglas is front and center in this film as Charlie Dunnigan, a traffic cop who happens to be first on the scene and develops a rapport with the would-be jumper. Douglas is always interesting -- very human, someone with whom the audience can relate. He made this film immediately after playing the police captain in PANIC IN THE STREETS, reviewed here nearly a year ago.
Sweet young Barbara Bel Geddes, who was also in PANIC IN THE STREETS, appears here in the climactic scenes as Robert's former fiancee, Virginia. There is a beautifully acted moment when she recites the goodbye poem he had sent her, and then a look of horror crosses her face as she realizes he was describing jumping in the poem. Her face says it all, without dialogue.
Basehart is fine as the suicidal Robert. At times the viewer feels more frustration than sympathy for him, but that is because Basehart plays his role so well, and the audience is identifying with the weary Officer Dunnigan.
Every role in the film, in fact, was exquisitely delineated, no matter how small the part. Robert Keith -- who played Dana Andrews' father in I WANT YOU the same year -- is Robert's unfairly maligned father, and Agnes Moorehead is Robert's scary mother, who starts out as a sympathetic character until her true colors are revealed. (Another BEWITCHED cast member, Sandra Gould, is the hotel phone operator.) Tony-winning actor Martin Gabel is particularly good as one of the psychiatrists trying to bring the jumper back inside.
Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget are charming as a young couple who meet in the crowded street outside the hotel, and one Grace P. Kelly, in her film debut, plays a woman who watches the drama from her attorney's office and has second thoughts about her pending divorce.
The cast doesn't stop there. Ossie Davis and Harvey Lembeck are cab drivers, John Randolph plays a fireman, Howard DaSilva is a policeman, and bit parts are played by John Cassavetes, Richard Beymer, and Brian Keith. L.A. TV news and radio legend George Putnam plays a TV reporter.
One interesting angle, viewing the film over 55 years after it was made, is realizing that although the technology has changed, TV news hasn't changed all that much; the TV broadcasters depicted in the film indulge in just as much "reality TV" or "news as soap opera" as any round-the-clock cable channel does today.
FOURTEEN HOURS was filmed in black and white and runs 92 minutes. The musical score was by Alfred Newman. The cinematographer was Joe MacDonald, who shot MY DARLING CLEMENTINE and YELLOW SKY. The way MacDonald conveyed the passage of time over the course of the day, with the gradually changing light, was particularly noteworthy. Much of the movie was filmed on location in New York, and a replica of the ledge set was also built at the studio.
A side note, sources conflict about using the title FOURTEEN HOURS versus 14 HOURS -- even the DVD box has it spelled out on the spine of the case, but numeric on the front cover. I've used FOURTEEN here as that is how the title appeared in the opening credits.
FOURTEEN HOURS is available on DVD as No. 21 in the Fox Film Noir series. Extras include a commentary track by historian Foster Hirsch.