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Criminal Minds

Friday, July 23, 2010
8:45 p.m. I Want to Live!
Robert Wise (1958)

Barbara Graham, alias “Bloody Babs,” was born in Oakland, offspring of a teenaged delinquent. Like mother, like daughter, Babs was a no-holds-barred party gal, with an appetite for action that devolved into soliciting, passing bum checks, and shilling the occasional sucker. Mistakenly (no, really) grabbed for the murder of a “crippled Burbank widow” in 1953 and sentenced to the gas chamber, Babs became a cause celeb, professing her innocence until the end. Giving more cause for celebration, Susan Hayward, in her Oscar-winning performance as our Death Row heroine, infuses “the queen of the murder mob” with a ferocious lust for living. She’s cantankerous, slyly amorous, and positively self-contained. Director Robert Wise keeps the headlines writ large in his terrific parsing of Babs’ tabloid tale, framing her decline through the byline of Ed Montgomery (Simon Oakland), the reporter who covered the actual case for the S.F. Examiner. “It’s her tough luck,” Simon said, “to be young, attractive, belligerent, immoral … and guilty as hell.”

—Steve Seid

• Written by Nelson Gidding, Don M. Mankiewicz, based on articles by Ed Montgomery and letters of Barbara Graham. Photographed by Lionel Lindon. Jazz Score composed by Johnny Mandel, performed by Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan, Shelly Manne, Bud Shank, Red Mitchell. With Susan Hayward, Simon Oakland, Virginia Vincent, Theodore Bikel. (120 mins, B&W, 35mm, Print from MGM)