Monday, May 28, 2012

Fourteen Hours (1951)

"Are you sure Harold Lloyd started this way?"
Fourteen Hours is a 1951 20th Century Fox film available on DVD under the brand "Fox Film Noir" but it isn't really that.  There's no crime plot, hard boiled hero or femme fatale in this movie but it does share a one thing with noir, a reliance on psychological explanation. Besides that it's an entertaining movie full of familiar faces.

The plot is simple. A young man walks out onto the ledge of a New York City hotel and threatens to jump.  Most of the rest of the film's 92 minutes is concerned with the police trying to figure out why he's doing this and get him down from there.  The story is very well directed by Henry Hathaway who keeps everything going at a brisk pace and it's a bonanza of fine acting from the principals and well known actors at the beginning of their careers in bit parts. 

Richard Basehart in convincing as the troubled young man on the ledge and Paul Douglas, then a top Fox star, is very good as the simple, compassionate cop who gets the task of of trying to talk him off.  Then there's Barbara Bel Geddes as the young man's fiancee and the great Agnes Moorehead acting up a storm as his self-absorbed mother. The other main support comes from the likes of Howard Da Silva as a police chief, Martin Gabel as a psychiatrist and Robert Keith as Basehart's father. 

Below that the cast is insanely full of now-familiar names who would go on to bigger things after this.  Frank Faylen is the waiter who first sees Basehart on the ledge. Jack Benny's TV nemesis, Frank Nelson, is a hotel guest, Jeff Corey is a policeman, Joyce Van Patten, Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget play onlookers, Harvey Lembeck and Ossie Davis are cab drivers and above all, there's the movie debut of Grace Kelly as a woman on her way to divorce her husband.  According to IMDB, Leif Erickson, John Randolph, Brad Dexter, Janice Rule and John Cassavettes are also somewhere in the crowds of rubberneckers, police and reporters shown but I didn't notice any of them.

The psychological element comes near the end of the film when Gabel delivers a detailed diagnosis of Basehart basically saying that all his troubles stem from confused feelings about his parents and resulting self-loathing.  It's the kind of pat explanation that would be spoofed a few years later in Psycho but in this context it sounds plausible.  There's also a sense for the callousness of the watching crowds that is reminiscent of Ace In The Hole but the overall feel  of the film is nowhere nearly as cynical. Peripheral characters may act as though the idea of a man jumping to his death is just a big show but the main folks involved, especially Douglas' cop, are shown as good, caring people.  That's probably one of the reasons Fourteen Hours has gotten lost in the shuffle over the years, not dark enough. Nevertheless it still holds up as tight, engrossing entertainment.


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