Dug out from the vault of the sixties, this is a film as haunting and powerful as I remember it to have been. It narrates the story of Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward) a woman of easy virtues living on the fringes of the law who is wrongfully indicted for murder. The process of the trial is widely orchestrated in the press and TV. Having no proof for her genuine alibi, she tries to cook up a false one and in the process she is caught in a legal jam leading to the death sentence. The movie takes us through her incarcerations and series of appeals and temporary reprieves right up to the chilling climax.
The message of the film (it certainly has one) is heavily accentuated by the youth and beauty of the condemned woman. If life is precious it certainly seems obscene that the system which supposedly represents the collective wisdom and will of society should culminate in an act so barbarous as the slaughter of a human being. But such is the way of the world, in peace as in war. The fallibility, deviousness and chicanery of the legal system is also laid bare.
The film is riveting till the end credits. It has a jazzy, noirish, melancholy, texture and Susan Hayward plays her role with power, confidence and applomb. One may fault the movie with excess of sentimentality, and the final bravado seems somewhat overdone belying the gravity of incipient death and human response to this cataclysmic event. On the other hand we are lead through the drills and routines of death row and we experience things from the outside if not inside. Most harrowing is the hope of a reprieve that is kept alive and repeatedly renewed and the wall clock marking the dwindling hours.
A good companion piece to Dead Man Walking, and well worth watching.