Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Henry Hathaway|
|Produced by||Sol C. Siegel|
|Screenplay by||John Paxton|
The Man on the Ledge|
1949 short story
by Joel Sayre
Barbara Bel Geddes
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Edited by||Dorothy Spencer|
|Distributed by||Twentieth Century-Fox|
Fourteen Hours is a 1951 film noir directed by Henry Hathaway, which tells the story of a New York City police officer trying to stop a despondent man from jumping to his death from the 15th floor of a hotel.
The film won critical acclaim for Richard Basehart, who portrayed the mentally disturbed man on the building ledge. Paul Douglas played the officer, and a large supporting cast included Barbara Bel Geddes, Agnes Moorehead, Robert Keith, Debra Paget, and Howard Da Silva. It was the screen debut of Grace Kelly and Jeffrey Hunter, who appeared in small roles.
Early one morning, a room-service waiter at a New York City hotel is horrified to discover that the young man to whom he has just delivered breakfast (Basehart) is standing on the narrow ledge outside his room on the 15th floor. Charlie Dunnigan (Douglas), a policeman on traffic duty in the street below, tries to talk him off the ledge to no avail. He is ordered back to traffic patrol by police emergency services deputy chief Moksar (Da Silva), but he is ordered to return when the man on the ledge will not speak to psychiatrists summoned to the scene. Coached by a psychiatrist (Martin Gabel), Dunnigan tries to relate to the man on the ledge as one human to another.
The police identify the man as Robert Cosick and locate his mother (Agnes Moorehead), but her overwrought, hysterical behavior only upsets Cosick and seems to drive him toward jumping. His father (Keith), whom he despises, arrives. The divorced father and mother clash over old family issues, and the conflict is played out in front of the police. Dunnigan seeks to reconcile Robert with his father, whom Cosick has been brought up to hate by his mother. Dunnigan forces Mrs. Cosick to reveal the identity of a "Virginia" mentioned by Robert, and she turns out to be his estranged fiancée.
While this is happening, a crowd is gathering below. Cab drivers are wagering on when he will jump. A young stock-room clerk named Danny (Hunter) is wooing a fellow office worker, Ruth (Debra Paget), whom he meets by chance on the street. A woman (Grace Kelly) is seen at a nearby law office, where she is about to sign the final papers for her divorce. Amid legal formalities, she watches the drama unfold. Moved by the tragic events, she decides to reconcile with her husband.
After a while, Dunnigan convinces Cosick everyone will leave the hotel room so that he can rest. As Cosick steps in, a crazy evangelist sneaks into the room and Cosick goes back to the ledge. This damages his trust in Dunnigan, as does an effort by police to drop down from the roof and grab him. As night falls, Virginia (Barbara Bel Geddes) is brought to the room, and she pleads with Robert to come off the ledge, to no avail. All the while, the police, under the command of Moksar, are working to grab Robert and put a net below him.
Dunnigan seems to make a connection with Cosick when he talks about the good things in life, and he promises to take Cosick fishing for "floppers" (flounder) on Sheepshead Bay. Cosick is about to come inside when a boy on the street accidentally turns on a spotlight that blinds Robert, and he falls from the ledge. He manages to grab a net that the police had stealthily put below him, and he is hauled into the hotel. Dunnigan is greeted by his wife and son, and Danny and Ruth walk the street hand in hand.
- Paul Douglas as Charlie Dunnigan
- Richard Basehart as Robert Cosick
- Barbara Bel Geddes as Virginia Foster
- Debra Paget as Ruth
- Agnes Moorehead as Christine Hill Cosick
- Robert Keith as Paul E. Cosick
- Howard Da Silva as Deputy Chief Moskar
- Jeffrey Hunter as Danny Klempner
- Martin Gabel as Dr. Strauss
- Grace Kelly as Mrs. Louise Ann Fuller
- Frank Faylen as Walter, room service waiter
- Jeff Corey as Police Sgt. Farley
- James Millican as Police Sgt. Boyle
- Donald Randolph as Dr. Benson
Basehart's wife, costume designer Stephanie Klein, was diagnosed with a brain tumor during filming of Fourteen Hours in May and June 1950, and died following brain surgery during production of the film that July.
Grace Kelly made her film debut in Fourteen Hours, beating out Anne Bancroft for the role. Kelly was noticed during a visit to the set by Gary Cooper, who subsequently starred with her in High Noon. Cooper was charmed by Kelly and said that she was "different from all these sexballs we've been seeing so much of." However, her performance in Fourteen Hours was not noticed by critics, and did not lead to her receiving other film acting roles. She returned to television and stage work after her performance in the film.
A nonprofessional performer named Richard Lacovara doubled for Basehart in long shots on the ledge, which had been enlarged to minimize risk of falling. Lacovara was protected by a canvas life belt hidden under his costume, connected to a lifeline, Even with the double, Basehart still had to endure over 300 hours of standing on the ledge with little movement during the 50 days of shooting in New York, even though he had a sprained ankle and his legs were ravaged by poison oak contracted on the grounds of his Coldwater Canyon home.
Barbara Bel Geddes, who played Basehart's love interest, did not appear in another film until Vertigo, seven years later.
Hathaway hired over 300 actors to play bit parts and extras in the film, much of which was filmed on lower Broadway in Manhattan. Among actors performing in uncredited roles were Ossie Davis and Harvey Lembeck, playing taxi drivers, and Joyce Van Patten, Brad Dexter, who subsequently appeared in The Magnificent Seven (1960), John Cassavetes, and Robert Keith's 30-year-old son Brian Keith. Other uncredited and bit players included Richard Beymer, who played the lead in West Side Story a few years later, radio's Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, Willard Waterman as a hotel clerk, future Broadway star Janice Rule, and character actors Leif Erickson and John Randolph.
Although the onscreen credits contain a statement saying that the film and characters depicted were "entirely fictional", the movie was based on the suicide of John William Warde, a 26-year-old man who jumped from the 17th floor of the Gotham Hotel in New York City on Tuesday, July 26, 1938, after 11 hours on a ledge. The character of Charlie Dunnigan was based on Charles V. Glasco, a New York City policeman who tried to convince Warde to come off the ledge.
Pretending to be a bellhop at the hotel, Glasco entered room 1714 and tried to persuade Warde that he would be fired as a bellboy if Warde did not come off the ledge. Warde, who had made previous suicide attempts, also heard pleas from his sister, but the efforts to persuade him were to no avail, and he eventually jumped, just after 10:30 pm. Police had tried to rig a net below him, but the net could not be extended sufficiently from the hotel to block his fall. During his 11 hours on the ledge, traffic was stopped for blocks around the hotel, which was located on 55th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and thousands watched the drama unfold.
Preproduction and filming
Writer Joel Sayre wrote about the Warde suicide in The New Yorker, in an article entitled "That Was New York: The Man on the Ledge", which was published on April 16, 1949. The story was purchased by Twentieth Century Fox.
Twentieth Century Fox changed the title from The Man on the Ledge to Fourteen Hours at the request of Warde's mother, so the picture would not be as closely identified with her son. Studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck considered changing the setting of the movie to another city for the same reason. But it was ultimately filmed in New York.
Howard Hawks refused to direct this movie because of its subject matter. Henry Hathaway, a director noted for his realistic films The House on 92nd Street (1945), Kiss of Death (1947), and Call Northside 777 (1948), was assigned to the project. The film was made in just six weeks with a modest budget. The New York exteriors were filmed at the American Exchange National Bank building, located at 128 Broadway in lower Manhattan. The building has since been demolished.
Hathaway avoided stasis by cutting between the film ledge and the reaction of the crowd below, and by adroit use of camera angles. It is considered to be his finest film.
The film originally ended with Robert falling to his death. Both endings were shot, and Hathaway preferred the realistic ending that showed Robert falling to the ground, as occurred in the Warde incident. However, on the same day the film was previewed, the daughter of Fox president Spyros Skouras jumped to her death. Skouras wanted the film shelved, but instead released Fourteen Hours six months later with the ending that showed Robert surviving his fall.
The New Yorker singled out Basehart's performance for praise, saying that he "succeeds in conveying the notion that he is indeed sorely beset."
The New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther, praised the "gripping suspense, absorbing drama and stinging social comment in this film." Crowther said: "Fitly directed by Henry Hathaway in a crisp journalistic style and played to the hilt down to its 'bit' parts, it makes a show of accelerating power." Crowther praised Basehart's "startling and poignant" performance, and said that Douglas "takes the honors as the good-natured cop who finds all his modest resources of intelligence and patience taxed by this queer case." He also praised Da Silva, Moorehead, and the other supporting players for bringing "personality and credibility to this superior American film."
Time Out Film Guide said that this "vertiginous melodrama recounts the event in professional low-key journalistic fashion." Comparing the movie to the film noir Ace in the Hole, Time Out observed that "the emphasis is as much on the reaction of bystanders as on the plight of the would-be suicide."
Fourteen Hours was listed as among the top-10 motion pictures of 1951 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. For his performance in the movie, Basehart won the 1951 award for best actor by the board. The film also was nominated for the BAFTA award for best film from any source. Hathaway was nominated for the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, and Paxton was nominated for a Writers Guild of America award for his screenplay.
Despite good reviews and a strong push by the studio to publicize the movie, with Paul Douglas appearing on the cover of Life, Fourteen Hours faded into obscurity. When the film was shown in revival at a Los Angeles Theater in 2003, only one print survived. However, the title was included in Twentieth Century Fox's "Fox Film Noir" DVD series in 2006.
Writing in Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, author Eddie Muller wrote: "It's a tense depiction of one man's personal despair, amid the teeming concrete indifference of the modern city."
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