Today! Because I don’t mind losing you, but I don’t want a whole daisy chain of cops sailing out that window –
Fourteen Hours (1951)
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Starring Paul Douglas, Richard Basehart, Barbara Bel Geddes, Grace Kelly, Debra Paget, Agnes Moorehead, Howard Da Silva, Robert Keith, Jeffrey Hunter, Frank Faylen, Martin Gabel, Richard Beymer, John Cassavetes, Ossie Davis, Willard Waterman
The jumper-on-a-ledge thriller seems to have existed since movies began – from Harold Lloyd hanging off that clock (okay, not exactly a ledge flick) straight through to the no-frills Man on a Ledge in 2012 starring that great ’08-’11 movie star Sam Worthington (did not make the list!). But the best one – at least where the entire plot deals with this element – is 1951’s gripping Fourteen Hours.
The cast is first rate – lead by Basehart’s suicidal Robert Cosick and Douglas’s endearing Officer Dunnigan charged with talking him back into the room. The layered complications are pretty standard for this type of film – why is he out there? How do we get him in safely? Who can help us talk to him? But in addition to this – with the parade of terrific supporting performers like Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Keith, the always brilliant Agnes Moorehead, the screen debut of Grace Kelly – the film also takes the interesting angle of presenting what’s going on at street level. The mania of the onlookers to gawk at the macabre spectacle happening above, with some sympathy, but mostly just to be entertained. It’s a fascinating choice, and one that elevates the movie from what could’ve been a standard suspense will-he-won’t-he flick into a bit of a condemnation of media and humanity, and in 1951!
Director Henry Hathaway isn’t exactly a household name, and did have a bit of a journeyman career, helming all manner of genres and films back-to-back many years in a row. But given the right material, he really could make a movie shine – Call Northside 777, True Grit, Kiss of Death, his Oscar nominated directing of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, the Carole Lombard/Shirley Temple vehicle Now and Forever – and he’s especially effective here, keeping the tone and pacing solid throughout. This was one of four movies he directed in 1951 alone! Prolific!
Basehart picked up Best Actor from the National Board of Review, and the BAFTAs nominated the film for Best Picture, but it seems history has largely forgotten Fourteen Hours. Shame! If nothing else, the film should be commended for the litany of cameos by future stars and radio staples, including the Best Gildersleeve Appearance, by radio legend Willard Waterman, popping up as a hotel clerk.