FOURTEEN HOURS (Henry Hathaway, 1951)

A boy in his early twenties contemplates suicide on the ledge of a top floor of a high-rise Broadway hotel. One of Henry Hathaway’s few good films, Fourteen Hours divides its time among these areas of interest: Robert Cosick’s desperation, as well as his pursuit of self-determination; the quarrel between his divorced parents that has embroiled Robert’s life, contributing to his mental instability; police attempts to lure Robert back into the hotel and, when these fail, to trap him; Robert’s damaged and highly ambiguous relationship with girlfriend Virginia; a nitwit psychologist’s ridiculous analysis of Robert’s neurosis (an inspiration for the “explanation” of Norman Bates’s psychosis in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, 1960); the impact of Robert’s situation on onlookers and passers-by in the street below; the exploitation of the event by the media (to which theme Hathaway would return at the opening of True Grit, 1969).
     Although the contributions of black-and-white (but mostly gray) cinematographer Joseph MacDonald and cutter Dorothy Spencer are incalculable (his for achieving an identical range of “soft” tonalities indoors and out that are correlative to the boy’s indecision and confusion, hers for piecing together a precise depiction of the physical nature of his predicament), the centerpiece of the film is undoubtedly Richard Basehart’s brilliant performance as sensitive, nervous Robert, who politely asks a cop, “Could I have a glass of water, please?” (Basehart was named best actor by the National Board of Review.) Agnes Moorehead is equally compelling as Robert’s hysterical mother. As an onlooker contemplating divorce rather than suicide, Grace Kelly made here her screen debut.
     It is possible that Robert is a closeted gay. (No?) Regardless, police capture denies Robert his attempt at (nonsuicidal) self-determination, probably destroying him irrevocably. The tunnel vision and cluelessness of the police are irritating to behold.


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