Monday, August 11, 2008

14 Hours

"14 Hours" (Henry Hathaway, 1951) Its place in film history is assured by being the first film role of a high-toned girl from Philadelphia who lived a cinderella existence in Hollywood, and traded it all in for life as a real princess in Monaco--Grace Kelly. Her role is small, but she does make an impression as an innocent by-stander whose life is affected by the circumstances in the movie.

But there's much more to this film than that. Another young star is introduced--Jeffrey Hunter, who is another of the morbid on-lookers as a troubled youth (Richard Basehart) walks out on a ledge and threatens to jump. There's only one beat cop (Paul Douglas) he'll talk to, so cop-in-charge Howard DaSilva puts Douglas out on the ledge as much as he can. He's not helped by the guy's parents (Agnes Moorehead and Robert Keith), or the former fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes), or the increasingly restless crowd below, egging the jumper on.

Fox is releasing "14 Hours" as part of its "noir" series, but it's not noir. In tone and execution, it more resembles a Hitchcock scenario--a limited space, lots of process work, POV shots, and a rather wicked sense of humor. It also has a passing resemblance to a film that would be released two months later--
Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole"--which also dramatized the callousness of mob mentality and reporters covering the story. Yes, it travels the back-alley of human emotions, and the last part of it does take place at night (albeit with klieg lights blazing away), but at the end of the day, dark it might be, but noir it ain't, although Hathaway directed a number of them in his career. And he makes good use of his previous films shot like documentaries for this story. Ultimately, though, it's a suspense film that hangs on a slim thread, anchored by performances uniformly delivered in the higher registers.

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