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I Want to Live!

Barbara Ford was a prostitute plying her trade near naval bases (hello sailor!) After being arrested, she switched to a brothel. From there she went into gambling and drug trafficking, her loyalty to her new associates costing her a five-year sentence for perjury.

Later she married Henry Graham, taking his friend, Emmett Perkins, as a lover. Together with three other men, among these Jack Santo, they decided to rob a widow, who was alleged to keep a large amount of cash and jewelry in her home.

The old woman, however, wouldn’t talk, so Barbara cracked her skull and suffocated her to death with a pillow. She tried to escape justice by bribing the friend of another inmate to give her an alibi, while confessing her crime to him, but to no avail.

Graham, Santo and Perkins were all sentenced to death. The two men hadn’t taking part in the murder, but they had killed one of their accomplices, who had turned state’s evidence.

Graham’s story was (sort of) told in I WANT TO LIVE! The movie being basically a piece of propaganda for the abolition of the death sentence, the character played by Susan Hayward is allowed to protest her innocence, the evidence against her being largely ignored.

Not so with the similar IN COLD BLOOD (1967) where the protracted scenes detailing the perpetrators’ casual extermination of a whole family make you wonder, if not “hanging’s too good for them”. As I remember, no one felt particularly sorry for Eichmann.

As with all crusaders, dissent seems to exclude you from the human race. The portrayal of the execution is certainly harrowing, with an Oscar performance by Hayward, the effect being somewhat lessened by a deafening jazz score.

Still, the question remains: The parents imagining their child screaming for them while being tortured to death for the sake of the killer’s sexual gratification may not be entirely satisfied by his taking up needlework until he’s eligible for parole. Or is it perhaps that these humanitarians are as incapable of human emotion as the psychopaths they’re trying to save?

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