Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 1951. Twentieth Century Fox. Story by Joel Sayre, Screenplay by John Paxton. Cinematography by Joseph MacDonald. Produced by Sol C. Siegel. Music by Alfred Newman. Production Design by Leland Fuller, Lyle R. Wheeler. Costume Design by Edward Stevenson. Film Editing by Dorothy Spencer. Academy Awards 1951.
Strangely absorbing melodrama that features terrific performances and also marks the debut of Grace Kelly in a minor role. A traffic cop (Paul Douglas) finds himself pulled into the eye of the tornado when he looks up at a New York hotel and sees a man (Richard Basehart) about to jump from the ledge. Immediately going to the man’s room and trying to talk him down, Douglas ends up being the intended suicide’s main conduit to a whole host of police officers, psychiatrists, reporters and estranged family members, everyone determined to prevent him from killing himself. Crowds gather below (including Jeffrey Hunter trying to pick up Debra Paget), while others watch from their windows (Kelly in her divorce lawyer’s office), the populace a combination of terrified sympathy and juicy curiosity, while the authorities are a creepy ambivalence between the care of a society looking to protect a lost lamb and an effort to have authoritative control over all lives. Despite the circus engendered by the situation, the film wisely focuses on the interaction between this lost young man (which, when played by Basehart, becomes a deeply sympathetic portrait) and the tough cop with his blue-collar stereotyped platitudes. By the time they introduce the issues with the victim’s mother (an overwrought Agnes Moorehead) and troubles with his girlfriend (Barbara Bel Geddes), the film threatens to go the route of all fifties films that incorporate psychological exploration into their scripts, with direct explanations for all troubles that are neatly resolved. Yet something extraordinary happens by this film’s end: difficult questions are not fully answered, and life does not go on restored to the wholeness that it began with at the opening. It’s pretty dated and clichéd, but not nearly as much as it could be, and the excellent backdrops and rear-projection photography make for a richly visual sensation that heightens the drama to terrific effect.