Monday, June 13, 2011

Susan Hayward in I Want to Live!

Susan Hayward received her fifth nomination and her overdue Academy Award for playing Barbara Graham, a woman who's sentenced to death because she took part in killing a paralyzed old lady in the movie I Want to Live!, which is based on a real life case. Last time when I was writing about Greta Garbo, I mentioned a locked Oscar win. That was certainly the case with Susan Hayward. Everybody wanted her to win, she won every award. It really was her time in every possible way: she had an extremely baity role, she played a controversial real-life character, she was way overdue plus she was a beloved superstar. No surprise that she won and the audience applauded enthusastically.

I Want to Live is actually a much better film than I remembered. Although it starts out very oddly, it turns out to be a very effective piece of work that was more than worthy of a Best Director nomination (I'd not even complain about a win). It's a very intense and exciting experience and I loved the fact that it minimalised the clichés of the movies about capital punishment. So if you watch it, don't expect a cheesy drama with tears and such. It's actually a very tough movie that is sometimes really nerve-wreckingly exciting.

Susan Hayward. I really cannot say much about her as I've only seen one movie in which she starred and that's her Oscar-winning role in I Want to Live! I haven't seen her roles as alcoholic women in Smash-Up and I'll Cry Tomorrow. True from what I can see, she seems to be an actress who went for really baity roles. In fact, some even consider her the one who invented Oscar baiting (though I would argue with that). All in all, I have the difficulty of not being able to compare this one to her other works and therefore, I may not even be able to properly evaluate her.

Just like the movie itself, Hayward's performance also starts out a bit out of tune and it seems very odd and weird. We get to know Barbara Graham as a very immoral, careless woman, whose credo is "Girls just wanna have fun." That being said, this character is not a saint and she doesn't come off as a very likeable person. The only thing that really bothered me about Hayward's performance is in connection with this. I felt that she was quite hammy in the beginning and somehow I was turned off by her line readings. And I became quite confused: is this the character or did Susan exaggerate Barbara's personality? In the end, I reached a decision about it: I think it's both. Although Barbara is indeed a character who's quite over-the-top, Hayward was a little bit too much at the beginning of the movie.

Still, that's the only bad thing I can say about Susan as apart from that. she gives an incredible performance as Barbara. Maybe not incredible but at least fantastic. I loved the way Susan developed Barbara. She both changes and remains the same. On the outside, Barbara is raging and then she's in peace but inside, she remains the same wild girl whose instincts can take her over. She has very loud outbursts and meltdowns, she's crying, screaming and so on. This might seem way too much but for me, it all worked. I can't say why, I was just really impressed by her.

The courtroom scenes are also handled extremely well by Hayward. We see Barbara fighting for her justice/freedom and all the emotions that Hayward shows are really impressive. She swears on everything possible, cries and screams (again) and it's so understandable. I can totally imagine the real Barbara acting this way.

What quite probably won Hayward this Oscar was the emotionality of this performance. We really feel sorry for Barbara even though we're never certain if she was really innocent. We are sorry for her when she's hysterical when they want to take her baby away and we're feeling really awkward when she goes to her own execution. Her last scenes are incredibly effective and one just keeps wondering about what she whispered to the priest in the end. Did she say "I did it?" Hayward brilliantly added all the shades and layers to this character and it's obvious that Barbara knows much more than she says.

So to sum up, it's no wonder that Hayward won the Oscar for her performance as Barbara Graham. Although I have some problems with her work here, I can say that she's indeed fantastic at showing all of Barbara's emotions. It's a very realistic portrayal of a desperate woman who wants to live. Moreover, Hayward made this character much more complicated and layered than most actresses would have.

A strong 4,5.

What do you think?

Note: Dear Readers, you seem to be quite inactive with this year. Are you so uninterested in this year? I could use 1 or 2 comments. :)


Fritz said...

She's incredibly over-the-top but Susan Hayward is one of the few actresses who don't rub me the wrong way while being over-the-top. She's very entertaining and moving but I wouldn't rate her as high as you do.

Anonymous said...

I loved this film and her performance, I agree that some part of it (especially the beginning) were extremely over-the-top but I really liked it and thought it was consistent with her character, her last scenes were probably the best and I disagree with your statement that we don't know if she was guilty or not, I always thought she wasn't and I felt the film made it seem obvious that she wasn't guilty. I would probably give her 4,5 Meryls as well. On another note, who do you think invented Oscar baiting?

Great review!

dinasztie said...

Anonymous: Thanks. And that's a great question. I'm not sure but I think that Bette's roles were quite baity so she might be the one. Or even earlier, Norma Shearer who was nominated for everything she played and she always got the best part. However, Oscar wasn't a really big deal back then. I'll probably say Bette whom I love immensely. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, I certainly agree, it's too bad it didn't work that much for her, if she had gotten what she deserved she would have had at least 5 Oscars!

Rick, Toronto, Ontario, Canada said...

Of all the actresses who won an Oscar for Best Actress, Susan Hayward's work probably needs the most rediscovery. I have often
wished she and Henry Fonda played
George and Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I would have
loved to have seen her play Martha,
with Fonda of course. I think the success of I Want to Live! is really to Robert Wise's credit, although Barbara is vividly played by Miss Hayward. She was a popular
winner, but I think she was especially popular when Darryl Zanuck showcased her talent in a wide array of different roles while at 20th Century Fox. She had such a pretty face, great talent, and photographed well. Not to mention she was a perfectionist! And when you do go work on the screen, that work shall live forever!
Bravo, Susan Hayward!!!