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I Want to Live!

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Claude Miller
Marcel Berbert
Written by Screenplay:
Nelson Gidding
Don Mankiewicz
Ed Montgomery
Barbara Graham
Starring Susan Hayward
Simon Oakland
Virginia Vincent
Theodore Bikel
Music by Johnny Mandel
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Editing by William Hornbeck
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) November 18, 1958
Running time 120 minutes
Country United States
Language English

I Want to Live! (1958) is a drama film noir directed by Robert Wise which tells the story of a woman, Barbara Graham, convicted of murder and facing execution. It features Susan Hayward, Simon Oakland, Stafford Repp, and Theodore Bikel. The movie was adapted from articles written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Montgomery based on letters written by Graham. It was produced by Walter Wanger and directed by Robert Wise.[1]

The film earned Hayward an Academy Award for Best Actress.



The film tells the story of the life and execution of Barbara Graham (Hayward) a prostitute, liar and drug addict. Graham is the product of a broken home, and works luring men into fixed card games.

At one point, she attempts to go straight and marries the wrong man, and has a child.

When her life falls apart, she returns to her former profession and gets involved in a murder. She claims her innocence, yet is convicted and executed.


  • Susan Hayward as Barbara Graham
  • Simon Oakland as Edward S. "Ed" Montgomery
  • Virginia Vincent as Peg
  • Theodore Bikel as Carl G.G. Palmberg
  • Wesley Lau as Henry L. Graham
  • Philip Coolidge as Emmett Perkins
  • Lou Krugman as John R. "Jack" Santo
  • James Philbrook as Bruce King
  • Bartlett Robinson as District Attorney Milton
  • Gage Clarke as Attorney Richard G. Tibrow
  • Joe De Santis as Al Matthews
  • John Marley as Father Devers
  • Raymond Bailey as San Quentin Warden
  • Alice Backes as Barbara, San Quentin Nurse
  • Gertrude Flynn as San Quentin Matron

Production notes

A prologue and an epilogue contributed to the film by Montgomery characterize the film's content — which largely portrays Graham as innocent of the murder — as factual. But there was substantial evidence of Graham's complicity in the crime. Hollywood writer Robert Osborne, who would later become host of Turner Classic Movies, interviewed Susan Hayward and asked whether or not she believed Barbara Graham had been innocent. According to Osborne, the actress seemed hesitant to answer at first, but ultimately admitted that her research of evidence and letters in the case led her to believe that the woman she played in the movie was probably guilty. (Telecast of movie and commentary by Robert Osborne, Feb. 20, 2009).

Critical reception

When released the staff at Variety gave the film a favorable review, writing, "There is no attempt to gloss the character of Barbara Graham, only an effort to understand it through some fine irony and pathos. She had no hesitation about indulging in any form of crime or vice that promised excitement on her own, rather mean, terms... Hayward brings off this complex characterization. Simon Oakland, as Montgomery, who first crucified Barbara Graham in print and then attempted to undo what he had done, underplays his role with assurance.[2]

Film critic Bosley Crowther liked the film and wrote, "...Miss Hayward plays it superbly, under the consistently sharp direction of Robert Wise, who has shown here a stunning mastery of the staccato realistic style. From a loose and wise-cracking B-girl she moves on to levels of cold disdain and then plunges down to depths of terror and bleak surrender as she reaches the end. Except that the role does not present us a precisely pretty character, its performance merits for Miss Hayward the most respectful applause."[3]

Reporter Gene Blake, who covered the actual murder trial for the Los Angeles Daily Mirror, called the movie "a dramatic and eloquent piece of propaganda for the abolition of the death penalty."[4]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100 percent of critics gave the film a positive review, based on eleven reviews.[5]





  • Directors Guild of America: DGA Award, Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Robert Wise; 1959.
  • Academy Awards: Oscar, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Lionel Lindon; Best Director, Robert Wise; Best Film Editing, William Hornbeck; Best Sound, Gordon Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD); Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Nelson Gidding and Don Mankiewicz; 1959.
  • Golden Globes: Golden Globe, Best Motion Picture - Drama; Best Motion Picture Director, Robert Wise; 1959.
  • Grammy Awards: Grammy, Best Soundtrack Album, Dramatic Picture Score or Original Cast, Johnny Mandel; 1959.
  • Writers Guild of America: WGA Award (Screen), Best Written American Drama, Nelson Gidding and Don Mankiewicz; 1959.
  • British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Foreign Actress, Susan Hayward; 1960.


I Want to Live! was remade for television in 1983. It featured Lindsay Wagner, Martin Balsam, Pamela Reed, Harry Dean Stanton, Dana Elcar, Ellen Geer, Robert Ginty and Barry Primus.


  1. ^ I Want to Live! at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ Variety. Film review, 1958. Last accessed: March 24, 2008.
  3. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, "Vivid Performance by Susan Hayward; Actress Stars in 'I Want to Live'," November 19, 1958. Last accessed: March 24, 2008.
  4. ^ Harnish, Larry - Barbara Graham case revisited, November 28, 1958 - Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2008, Article originally published by Blake, Gene, as BARBARA GRAHAM - FILM AND FACT. Los Angeles Daily Mirror, November 28, 1958
  5. ^ I Want to Live! at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: December 1, 2009.

External links

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