Henry Hathaway tends to be associated with westerns, and indeed, some of his biggest hits as a director were in that vein: How the West Was Won, The Sons of Katie Elder, and of course, the original True Grit. A perusal of his IMDB page reveals a variety of movies, including war, film noir and drama. While he may not have had a clear signature style as a director, he was one of a number of Hollywood filmmakers from the Golden Age who turned out reliable product again and again; a go-to man.
A former assistant director during the silent era, he got his break in the early 30s making adaptations of Zane Grey westerns with Randolph Scott. In 1935, Lives of a Bengal Lancer with Gary Cooper got a Best Picture nomination and Hathaway was on the radar.
During WW2, Hathaway came to 20th Century Fox and stayed there well into the 50s. Among the many films he made there include today’s subject, 14 Hours, which is classified as a noir but it struck me more as a straight drama so that’s how I’m labeling it. It’s an ensemble about a guy who wants to jump from a great height off the ledge of a Manhattan building and the effort expended to talk him down. It’s loosely inspired by a true story.
Naturally, most of the action centers on the ledge and the nearest window and the space between, and Hathaway combines both location footage in midtown Manhattan and a recreation of the building facade to shoot that tight space from different angles.
Richard Basehart, so very different here than in He Walked By Night, spends almost the entire film on that ledge and give him credit, he looked pretty scared and confused the whole time. Could it be because he performed with a sprained ankle and a case of poison oak?
Paul Douglas, Linda Darnell’s husband in A Letter to Three Wives, plays a beat cop who attempts to bond with Basehart to get him off the ledge. I liked him a lot. He embodied the working class spirit of the old New York, where everybody talks in that familiar street lingo and their rough exterior hides a big heart underneath.
Because it’s an ensemble, we get many different perspectives of the event, from New Yorkers of different classes, engaged in different things while the attempted jump takes place, some interested in what’s going on, others less so.
14 Hours was Grace Kelly’s first film. The future princess of Monaco had a small role as a wife in the middle of a divorce when Basehart attempts his jump; her lawyer’s office is across the street and she can see everything going on. Legend has it Cooper visited the set and Kelly caught his eye. One year later, boom—High Noon. You know the rest.
This was also the debut of Jeffrey Hunter and John Cassavetes, plus Ossie Davis and Richard Beymer have small parts. Many familiar faces are in this movie, but don’t blink or you may miss them!
However, the familiar face we’re here to discuss (finally) is Agnes Moorehead. She plays Basehart’s mother, alternating between terror for her son’s life and anger at her husband, with whom she doesn’t get along.
|Barbara Bel Geddes plays Basehart’s fiancée. She wouldn’t make|
another movie after this until Vertigo, seven years later.
Moorehead’s early career was in radio, and of course she was part of Orson Welles’ Mercury Players troupe. She followed Welles to Hollywood and appeared in his first three feature films, Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and Journey Into Fear. She was a four-time Oscar nominee and a Golden Globe and Emmy winner who also had great success in radio.
In television, she was a major supporting character on Bewitched, plus she appeared in that fantastic near-silent Twilight Zone episode in which tiny aliens invade an old woman’s home.
The Emmy she won was not for either, though; it was for an episode of The Wild Wild West, which I also watched for this post. Moorehead hams it up as a Bond-like villain, a society dame who marries young girls off to rich men and knocks the men off so she can gain power through control of the girls. It’s a very diva kind of role and Moorehead looked like she had fun with it, if nothing else.
I’ll always remember her for her part in the animated Charlotte’s Web that was T-double E-double R-double R-double I-double F-double I-double C-C-C: she was the goose on Zuckerman’s farm who helps Charlotte save Wilbur’s life, in her own way. Given Moorehead’s history in radio, for which she was highly praised, voice-over work in animation seemed a natural fit for her; I’m surprised she didn’t do more in this field.
Moorehead carved out a long career for herself in multiple media, one that got better as she got older.
Other films with Agnes Moorehead:
Charlotte’s Web (voice only)