'Oldie but goodie' wins no awards for tolerance of 'alternative lifestyles'
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The DVD contains some interesting commentary by film noir expert Foster Hirsch. His basic thesis is that what 14 Hours is really about is a crisis over masculinity. Hirsch argues that the subtext of the film is that the Richard Basehart character ("Robert Cosick") is gay but in 1951, Hollywood was not permitted to deal with such gay themes explicitly. Hirsch makes some good points particularly in his description of Charlie Dunnigan, the down-to-earth cop (convincingly played by Paul Douglas) who is set up as a well-adjusted family man in contrast to the tormented Cosick.
14 Hours works on two levels. The primary level is the attempt by Dunnigan to get Cosick off the ledge and prevent him from killing himself. It's interesting that it's immediately apparent that Dunnigan has established a rapport with Cosick but the higher-ups (represented by the Police Captain played by Howard DaSilva) sends Dunnigan back to the street. Only once the two 'professionals' (the psychologists) are brought to the scene and realize that Cosick will only speak to Dunnigan that the brass have to eat crow and bring their 'inferior' back up to negotiate.
If the whole movie was just Dunnigan trying to sway Cosick, things would get pretty boring after awhile. But Screenwriter John Paxton mixes things up nicely by bringing in the three family members who try and coax the errant son/husband back to reality. Agnes Moorehead probably has the most interesting part in the movie as Cosick's semi-demented mother who just can't cut the strings. Then there's the passive alcoholic father played by Robert Keith (the real life father of well known actor, Brian Keith) who comes off as much more genuine than the spotlight-grabbing mother. Barbara Bel Geddes has the thankless role of being the good 'wife' who deep down knows she'll never have a sexual relationship with her husband ever again. There are other characters that add to the film's verisimilitude high above street level: the slew of cops who are continually trying to physically remove Cosick from his perch as well as the obsessed preacher, the 'man of God' who sabotages the rescue plan almost culminating in disaster!
The second level takes place 'below' the main action. On the street level, we're introduced to a group of 'everyman' characters. One of them is Mrs. Fuller (in Grace Kelly's first screen role). She's on her way up to her attorney to finalize divorce proceedings. Then there's the down-to-earth 'Ruth' (played by Debra Paget) who meets Danny (played by Jeffrey Hunter of 'King of Kings fame') in the gathering crowd who are staring up at the great passion play above. There's also a group of taxicab drivers (one of them is Ossie Davis in his first screen role) who represent the various ethnic types found in NYC. They cynically place bets on the exact time they expect Cosick to jump. Finally, there's the media?the reporters, both print and TV journalists who are covering the media event. Suffice it to say, the 'media' does not come off very well in this film.
14 Hours has a gripping story that moves along at a brisk pace. You'll find out from the DVD commentary that most if was filmed on a Hollywood sound stage but through expert editing, the NY scenes were inserted to make it look like the entire film was filmed in New York City. As I mentioned before, I agree with Foster Hirsch's central thesis that this is a film about a guy who doesn't trust his masculinity. Some of Hirsch's theories go a little too far, especially when he suggests that the Woolworth Building in the background is a phallic symbol. Furthermore I disagree with his view that the film takes a dim view of the psychologist who provides the 'psychological' explanation of Cosick's malady. Quite the contrary, psychoanalysis was all the rage at that time, especially in the movies, so when the explanation is offered that Cosick is suffering from an "Oedipal Complex', and all his family members are depicted as contributing to Cosick's neurosis, it appears that the filmmakers seem to embrace that line of reasoning.
14 Hours loses a bit of its luster with it advocacy of what it believes is 'normal'. While Cosick is saved, it's quite obvious that he'll always be 'damaged goods'. But most of the other characters get to live 'happily ever after'. The 'normal' couple go off in the sunset hand in hand, presumably to begin a 'normal' (1951 style) sexual relationship. Grace Kelly realizes that divorce isn't the answer and even the taxi drivers walk away from the most cynical of their lot. Dunnigan meets up with his son and we get a peek of his doting wife waiting outside the revolving doors at the front of the hotel.
14 Hours will never win awards for tolerance of 'alternative lifestyles'. But as a taut, gripping, little thriller, it can be surely termed an 'oldie but goodie'.