I Want to Live!

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I Want to Live!
I Want to Live!.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Nelson Gidding
Don Mankiewicz
Based on Newspaper articles and letters 
by Edward S. Montgomery
Barbara Graham
Starring Susan Hayward
Simon Oakland
Virginia Vincent
Theodore Bikel
Music by Johnny Mandel
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Edited by William Hornbeck
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • November 18, 1958 (1958-11-18) (United States)
Running time
120 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,383,578[1]
Box office $5,641,711[1]

I Want to Live! is a 1958 film noir written by Nelson Gidding and Don Mankiewicz, produced by Walter Wanger, and directed by Robert Wise, which tells the story of a woman, Barbara Graham, an habitual criminal convicted of murder and facing execution. It stars Susan Hayward as Graham, and also features Simon Oakland, Stafford Repp, and Theodore Bikel. The movie was adapted from letters written by Graham and newspaper articles written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Montgomery. The film presents a somewhat fictionalized version of the case showing a possibility of innocence concerning Graham. Today, the charge would be known as felony murder.

The film earned Hayward a Best Actress Oscar at the 31st Academy Awards.


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

At one point, she attempts to go straight but marries the "wrong man," and has a child. He is a drug addict and she ends their relationship.

When her life falls apart, she returns to her former professions and becomes involved with a man who had murdered a woman. The police arrest them, and her companions accuse her of the murder to reduce their own chances of going to the gas chamber. She claims her innocence, but is convicted and executed.


Production notes[edit]

A prologue and 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 which included her taped confession to an undercover officer.[2] Hollywood writer Robert Osborne, who later became the 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 on the evidence and letters in the case led her to believe that the woman she played in the movie was probably guilty.[3]


Box office[edit]

The film was very popular and earned a net profit of $2,455,570.[1]

Critical response[edit]

When the film was released, Variety magazine gave the film a favorable review: "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.[4]

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 onto 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."[5]

Gene Blake, the reporter 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."[6]

In 2009, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that eleven out of eleven reviews of the film were positive.[7]




  • 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 E. Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD); Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Nelson Gidding and Don Mankiewicz; 1958.[8]
  • 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.


Two phonograph albums were released, both titled I Want to Live. One, Johnny Mandel's, contained the film score; the other, Gerry Mulligan's, included numerous Mandel-written themes. AllMusic calls Mandel's album "one of the best jazz-inspired soundtracks around"[9] and notes that Mulligan's album "features six themes from the movie (all composed by Johnny Mandel) performed by the same musicians, who this time around get an opportunity to really stretch out."[10] By March 1959, Billboard noted that the popularity of the film and of Mandel's and Mulligan's albums "prompted a rush of jazz film scores", and cited the signing of Duke Ellington to do the score for that year's Anatomy of a Murder, the release of The Five Pennies (a biopic about the jazz band leader Red Nichols), and a 1960 documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day.[11]


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. ^ a b c Bernstein, Matthew (2000). Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent. Minnesota Press. p. 446. 
  2. ^ Gilmore, John (2005). L.A. DESPAIR: A Landscape of Crimes and Bad Times. Los Angeles: Amok books. pp. 288–291. ISBN 1-878923-16-1. 
  3. ^ Telecast of movie and commentary by Robert Osborne, Feb. 20, 2009
  4. ^ Variety. Film review, 31 December 1957. Last accessed: March 24, 2008.
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley (November 19, 1958). "Vivid Performance by Susan Hayward; Actress Stars in I Want to Live". The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2008. 
  6. ^ Harnish, Larry (28 November 2008). "Barbara Graham case revisited". Los Angeles Times (originally published as: Blake, Gene. "Barbara Graham: Film and Fact, November 28, 1958", Los Angeles Daily Mirror, 28 November 1958). 
  7. ^ I Want to Live! at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: December 1, 2009.
  8. ^ "The 31st Academy Awards (1958) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  9. ^ I Want to Live at AllMusic
  10. ^ (The Jazz Combo from) I Want to Live! at AllMusic
  11. ^ Bundy, June (March 9, 1959). "Late 50s Bid for Posterity Fame as Real 'Jazz Age'". Billboard. p. 42. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved 2010-08-11. 

External links[edit]