Fourteen Hours (1951)- Henry Hathaway

 ★★★★★

 

The idea of a film centered around one desperate man standing on the ledge of a New York building is a difficult one because there are so many unanswered questions that arise. How do you keep the audience entertained when, in all actuality, very little is happening? How do you deal with a main character that just stands there, and in fact, doesn’t even really want to talk to anyone? And finally, what happens at the end of the film?  Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)All of these questions had to have played heavily on director Henry Hathaway’s mind when filming his noir, suspense drama, “Fourteen Hours” (1951), but fortunately his talent for great storytelling and an extensive cast of sensational actors help turn this possibly entertaining film into a memorable movie, with an exorbitant amount of humanity under the surface.

In a New York City hotel, an emotionally tormented young man named Robert (Richard Basehart) steps out his window onto the ledge. The moment of desperation is seen from the street below by a traffic cop, Charlie (Paul Douglas). Charlie rushes up to the room where he sits on the ledge as well, trying patiently to get Robert to come back inside.

The event turns into a circus, with people filling the streets below, engrossed by the human drama that has presented itself to them. Taxi drivers place bets on what time he will jump, people walking to work stop, frozen, waiting to see what will happen. Even the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is cancelled. Richard Basehart and Barbara Bel Geddes in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)Obviously with a title like “Fourteen Hours”, you can guess that things aren’t resolved quickly, as every step towards a resolution just seems to make things worse.

The acting in this movie is the kind of stuff that directors dream about. Richard Basehart gives a towering performance as the sad, mentally unstable young man at his own personal crossroad. It amazes me how intense he is without being able to move more than a couple of inches the entire picture. He acts through his expressions. He eyes speak for him (his fear, his anger, and regret) present themselves with little dialogue and almost no physicality. It’s Paul Douglas who does most of the talking. The majority of his dialogue goes unanswered…but he keeps talking anyway. He is the driving force of the script, but being an amazing actor, he knows that he can’t take the focus off of Basehart, Richard Basehart in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)so Douglas keeps his perfect performance controlled.

The aspect that helps “Fourteen Hours” to shine is the inclusion of sub-plots that transpire during the 14 hours, and the performances given by the enormous cast of supporting players. Both of Robert’s parents (Agnes Moorehead & Robert Keith) show up to “help”, but end up bringing back years of family dysfunction and drama. His former fiance (Barbara Bel Geddes) also arrives, with Bel Geddes giving a brief, but touchingly memorable performance. And then there are all the individuals involved indirectly, whether down on the street or hiding in the hotel, trying to come up with new ideas; Howard Da Silva as the police chief, Martin Gabel as a psychiatrist, Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget as two strangers who meet on the street, even Grace Kelly shows up in her screen debut as a woman in the midst of a divorce, who reconsiders after witnessing Robert’s plight. Everyone who appears on the screen adds to the film’s intensity by acting a human as possible.

It’s been said that “Fourteen Hours” is, possibly, Henry Hathaway’s best film. As a fan of westerns and film noir (both of which he made in abundance), it would be hard to pick which one of his classic pieces of cinema is “best”. He spent an entire career making great movies that all continue to be enthralling because of Richard Basehart and Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)his underrated skill as a director, and his uncanny ability to entertain an audience. “Fourteen Hours” is a unique film for him, and it is obvious that he was excited at the challenges that filming this type of story would offer. Although it has faded in popularity over the years, it is a film that deserves to be revisited and appreciated by a new audience.

Although “Fourteen Hours” goes out of its way to tell the audience that it wasn’t based on real events, the screenplay (masterfully penned by John Paxton) was based on an article in The New Yorker by Joel Sayre, who was in fact writing about the suicide of John William Warde in 1938. The details are quite different, but it did (unfortunately) serve as inspiration.

The Searchers (1956): AFI 100 Days 100 Movies #12

★★★★★

&

My Hall Of Fame

 

#12 The Searchers (1956)

Director-John Ford

Running Time-119 Minutes

Rated-Not Rated

“Injun will chase a thing till he thinks he’s chased it enough. Then he quits. Same way when he runs. Seems like he never learns there’s such a thing as a critter that’ll just keep comin’ on. So we’ll find ’em in the end, I promise you. We’ll find ’em. Just as sure as the turnin’ of the earth.”

The Searchers is the highest ranked western on the AFI list of best American movies. With that in mind, it does seem The Searchersfitting that it happens to be a John Ford movie that stars John Wayne. Of the 21 movies Ford and Wayne made together, this one is the most uncharacteristic of the group. If you have seen other Ford/Wayne collaborations, but you skipped this one because you think they are all similar, then you would have made a great mistake. The Searchers is not only unlike their other movies, but it is also unlike any other western, ever.

It tells the story of Ethan Edwards (Wayne), who has returned to his brothers ranch three years after the end of the Civil War. His whereabouts have been a mystery to everyone, and Ethan has no intention of clueing anyone in. Ethan’s brother lives there with his wife, two daughters, son and a part Indian adopted son, Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), who is now an adult. Not long after Ethan’s arrival, Captain Samuel Clayton (Ward Bond), who is also the reverend, arrives and informs them that some Indians came and ran off the neighbor’s cattle. Ethan, along with Martin, heads out with the Reverend and hisThe Searchers posse in search of the Indians.

Before long, the posse comes across the cattle, slaughtered. They realize that the Indians only stole the cattle to entice the men away from their homes. Everyone heads back, but it is too late. Ethan finds the bodies of his brother, his brother’s wife and their son, but neither of the daughters are there. The posse heads back out, in search of the girls, but the Indians are ready and waiting. After a battle, the posse decides to head back, so Ethan, Martin and Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey Jr.) are the only three that continue looking. Jorgensen was engaged to the eldest sister in the Edwards family. Soon Ethan comes across her body and buries her. Later that night he tells Jorgensen what he found, but it is too much for him too handle, and he charges into the Indians camp alone.

“That’ll be the day.”

The remainder of the movie chronicles the lives of Ethan and Martin as they continue to search for the young girl. The SearchersAlthough neither one of these men like each other, they continue their hopeless quest for their own personal reasons. Martin, although adopted, always felt a connection with his young sister and wants to see her returned to the white people, even though he has a fiance at home (Vera Miles). He is willing to risk losing her in order to find his sister. Ethan, on the other hand, is certain he would rather see his niece dead than to become an Indian herself. He is willing to spend his life hunting her down, even if it means killing her, to ensure that she doesn’t become an Indian. It is a painful journey for both men, that will lead them to discover what pain comes with the want of vengeance.

Although The Searchers is now considered a masterpiece, in 1956 it was “just another western”. Many reviewers were critical of the story, and the scenes that are obviously filmed on a soundstage. In a time when every movie seemed to be in Cinemascope or Vistavision, how dare The Searchers film even some scenes indoors! What is somewhat entertaining is that the scenes that Ford shot in Monument Valley are some of the best of his career. In fact, even though John Ford won four Best Director Oscars, The Searchers is the best work of his career. HeThe Searchers had mastered the art of storytelling, as well as the ability to drive the plot, from the first moment until the last. There are no wasted scenes in The Searchers.

John Wayne is one of those actors that everybody writes off as just being himself. I don’t mean to say that Wayne was unlike many of his characters, but when watching The Searchers I only see glimpses of Wayne. The role of Ethan overtakes Wayne’s pleasantness, and turns him into a dark, cold, sinister man, with nothing on his mind or in his heart except revenge. At the funeral of his brother and family, an elderly woman tries to tell Ethan that his family wouldn’t want him spending his life looking for vengeance. Ethan doesn’t even acknowledge what she has said, but rather takes off on his horse. There is also the famous scene where Wayne shoots the eyes of a dead Indian. When the reverend ask him what good that did, Ethan replies,

“By what you preach, none. But what that Comanche believes, ain’t got no eyes, he can’t enter the spirit-land. Has to wander forever between the winds. You get it, Reverend.”

The SearchersMartin Scorsese very plainly said that Ethan hates even beyond the grave. One can’t help but pity Ethan for the things he has seen and lived through. Wayne would receive an Academy Award 13 years later for True Grit, but it was his performance in The Searchers that I will always consider his best.

The American Film Institute had placed The Searchers at number 96 on their list in 1997, but in just ten years it has moved up 84 spots;The Searchers this of course is more than any other movie.  Although now considered one of the best movies of all time, in 1956 it did not receive any Academy Award nominations. That seems odd considering now it is the only movie from that year to make an appearance on the AFI list. No matter how you look at The Searchers, more and more people agree that it has become the greatest western movie of all time. After watching it again today, it certain would be hard to disagree.