14 Hours

July 1, 2009 at 8:09 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , , , , )


14 Hours is a lesser known film noir released in 1951 and directed by Henry Hathaway that follows the 14 hours that Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart) stands on the ledge of a New York City high rise hotel threatening to jump. The cast includes a long list of film noir stalwarts, such as Paul Douglas, Howard Da Silva, Jeff Corey, Basehart, Agnes Moorehead, Frank Faylen, though there is only one big name, Grace Kelly, who is making her first film appearance. Also, the cinematographer Joe McDonald was a film noir veteran who worked on films such as Panic in the Streets, Pickup on South Street, and The Dark Corner long with several other notable noirs. Hathaway himself was virtually the inventor of the docu-noir, which is where 14 Hours fits in snuggly. 

Hathaway had a long history directing noir films, but the docu-noirs such as Call Northside 777 and The House on 92nd Street is how he really put his stamp on the noir genre. 14 Hours is very similar to these films in that police or journalistic procedure, realism and a lack of excessive expressionism forms the foundation of the style.

 The film begins with a nice view of New York City circa 1951. The streets are empty and ominous and you certainly get the feel that something is about to happen. This emptiness is quickly contrasted by a large busy crowd as soon as it is found out that Cosick is out on the ledge and could jump at any minute. A traffic cop, Charlie Dunnigan (Paul Douglas) is the first policeman to see Cosick and is rushed up to his side as the rest of the police force, complete with psychiatrists, make their way up to the 15th floor of the hotel.

 Dunnigan becomes the one guy that Cosick feels he can trust and most of the film consists of Dunnigan’s balance between trying to keep Cosick trusting his intentions while also plotting with the rest of the police force to get Cosick down.

 This film gives harsh treatment to virtually all types of people. It shows policemen, psychiatrists, cab drivers, journalists, parents, and priests in a bad light. Virtually everyone in the film is attempting to exploit Cosick’s situation for their own benefit; particularly his mother, who is searching for her one chance at fame.

 The most scorn is saved for the media as this is one of the first to show the media exploitation of an event in which real people are involved. It is similar to another noir during the same year, Ace in the Hole, which focuses almost solely on media exploitation of and individual’s crisis.

 Noir Elements

Because this is a fictionalized documentary type of story (it is based upon a true story), Hathaway and McDonald were going for a more realistic approach to the visual style of the film. There is very little of the high contrast chiaroscuro lighting that you find in most noirs. During the day scenes, it is very bright with few shadows and contrasts, though you do see some of normal noir lighting during the night scenes at the end of the film.

What makes 14 Hours a noir film has more to do with the aspects the characters, most specifically Cosick. Psychoanalysis is prevalent and many of the theories of Freud permeate the undertones of Cosick’s problems. There is a bit of the Oedipus complex going on between Cosick and his parents. Also, Cosick is certainly isolated, rarely shown in the same frame as any of the other characters. There are numerous shots from the street looking up at Cosick which magnify his isolation from the rest of the crowd (aka society) gathered below.

 This film also takes a rather critical attitude toward anyone in a position of authority. The police chief Moskar (Howard Da Silva) is not the most likeable character and even the hero Dunnigan gets caught in several blatant lies to Cosick.

Another idea that seems to pop up in 14 Hours and other film noirs is the notion that the city separates people and reduces their humanity. When one of the cab drivers looks up at Cosick on the ledge, Cosick is barely visible and the cabbie describes Cosick as “just like a bug taking a walk.” The cab drivers then proceed to get a pool together to see who can get closest to the time that Cosick will actually jump.

 Recommendation

14 Hours is certainly a film worth watching. It is somewhat of an unknown but should not be hard to find. I was able to get a copy through Netflix. It is known more for being Grace Kelly’s first film though she plays a rather small part. It is a nice cast, and all perform well though there is no one that really stands out. The story moves along at a good pace. The real star of the film is probably the cinematography of McDonald and the excellent process shots that may be unmatched by the standards of 1951. They are masterfully done and you really get a good feel for the vastness of the city in contrast to the smallness of Basehart’s character.

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