I Want to Live!

I Want to Live! is a 1958 film noir written by Nelson Gidding and Don Mankiewicz, produced by Walter Wanger, and directed by Robert Wise, which tells the true story of a woman, Barbara Graham, an habitual criminal convicted of murder and facing execution. It stars Susan Hayward as Graham, and also features Simon Oakland, Stafford Repp, and Theodore Bikel. The movie was adapted from letters written by Graham and newspaper articles written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Montgomery. It presents a somewhat fictionalized version of the case showing a possibility of innocence concerning Graham. Today, the charge would be known as felony murder.

I Want to Live!
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Wise
Produced byWalter Wanger
Screenplay byNelson Gidding
Don Mankiewicz
Based onNewspaper articles and letters
by Edward S. Montgomery
Barbara Graham
StarringSusan Hayward
Simon Oakland
Virginia Vincent
Theodore Bikel
Music byJohnny Mandel
CinematographyLionel Lindon
Edited byWilliam Hornbeck
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • November 18, 1958 (1958-11-18) (United States)
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5,641,711[1]

The film earned six Oscar nominations, with Hayward winning a Best Actress Oscar at the 31st Academy Awards.


The film tells the story of the life and execution of Barbara Graham (Hayward), a prostitute and convicted perjurer. Graham is the product of a broken home and works luring men into fixed card games. At one point, she attempts to go straight but marries the "wrong man" and has a child. He is a drug addict, and she ends their relationship.

When her life falls apart, she returns to her former professions and becomes involved with a man who had murdered a woman. The police arrest them, and her companions accuse her of the murder to reduce their own chances of going to the gas chamber. She claims her innocence, but is convicted and executed.


Production notes

A prologue and epilogue contributed to the film by Montgomery characterize the film's content — which largely portrays Graham as innocent of the murder — as factual. But there was substantial evidence of Graham's complicity in the crime which included her taped confession to an undercover officer.[2] Hollywood writer Robert Osborne, who later became the host of Turner Classic Movies, interviewed Hayward and asked whether or not she believed Barbara Graham had been innocent.

According to Osborne, the actress seemed hesitant to answer at first, but ultimately admitted that her research on the evidence and letters in the case led her to believe that the woman she played was guilty.[3]

The film is generally considered to be very accurate in its depiction of how the California gas chamber functioned.[4][5]


Box office

The film earned a net profit of $2,455,570.[1] Hayward was entitled to 37% of the profit.[6]

Critical response

When the film was released, Variety magazine gave the film a favorable review: "There is no attempt to gloss the character of Barbara Graham, only an effort to understand it through some fine irony and pathos. She had no hesitation about indulging in any form of crime or vice that promised excitement on her own, rather mean, terms... Hayward brings off this complex characterization. Simon Oakland, as Montgomery, who first crucified Barbara Graham in print and then attempted to undo what he had done, underplays his role with assurance.[7]

Film critic Bosley Crowther liked the film and wrote, "...Miss Hayward plays it superbly, under the consistently sharp direction of Robert Wise, who has shown here a stunning mastery of the staccato realistic style. From a loose and wise-cracking B-girl she moves onto levels of cold disdain and then plunges down to depths of terror and bleak surrender as she reaches the end. Except that the role does not present us a precisely pretty character, its performance merits for Miss Hayward the most respectful applause."[8]

Gene Blake, the reporter who covered the actual murder trial for the Los Angeles Daily Mirror, and who described how the movie took liberties with the facts, called the movie "a dramatic and eloquent piece of propaganda for the abolition of the death penalty."[9]

By March 1959, Billboard noted that the popularity of the film and of Mandel's and Mulligan's albums "prompted a rush of jazz film scores", and cited the signing of Duke Ellington to do the score for that year's Anatomy of a Murder, the release of The Five Pennies (a biopic about the jazz band leader Red Nichols), and a 1960 documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day.[10]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports a 92% approval rating based on 13 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10.[11]

Awards and honors



  • Directors Guild of America: DGA Award, Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Robert Wise; 1959.
  • Academy Awards: Oscar, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Lionel Lindon; Best Director, Robert Wise; Best Film Editing, William Hornbeck; Best Sound, Gordon E. Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD); Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Nelson Gidding and Don Mankiewicz; 1958.[12]
  • Golden Globes: Golden Globe, Best Motion Picture - Drama; Best Motion Picture Director, Robert Wise; 1959.
  • Grammy Awards: Grammy, Best Soundtrack Album, Dramatic Picture Score or Original Cast, Johnny Mandel; 1959.
  • BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress in a Leading Role
  • Writers Guild of America: WGA Award (Screen), Best Written American Drama, Nelson Gidding and Don Mankiewicz; 1959.
  • British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Foreign Actress, Susan Hayward; 1960.

Other honors The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Musical score and soundtrack

I Want to Live!
Soundtrack album by
RecordedMay 1958
GenreFilm score
LabelUnited Artists
UAL 4005 & UAL 4006
Johnny Mandel chronology
I Want to Live!
The 3rd Voice
Gerry Mulligan chronology
Reunion with Chet Baker
I Want to Live!
Annie Ross Sings a Song with Mulligan!
Jazz Combo Cover
Professional ratings
Review scores

The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Johnny Mandel, but the picture also featured jazz themes performed by Gerry Mulligan's Jazz Combo, and two soundtrack albums were released on the United Artists label in 1958.[15]

Allmusic's Stephen Cook noted, "Johnny Mandel's I Want to Live soundtrack works both as high-end mood music and swinging jazz. ...the most intriguing cuts are those that seamlessly combine jazz, Latin percussion, and strains of Max Steiner's dramatically moody soundtracks ...And as far as murky ambience goes, he delivers some of the best (next to Mancini) ...To help navigate the vast terrain, Mandel enlists a cadre of top West Coast players like trumpeter Jack Sheldon, trombonist Frank Rosolino, reed player Bill Holman, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummer Shelly Manne. And topping off Mandel's original score, ... Gerry Mulligan and Art Farmer's combo interpretations of a handful of Mandel's original themes from the movie (Mulligan and company appear in the movie's bar scenes). One of the best jazz-inspired soundtracks around".[14]

Track listing

Johnny Mandel's Great Jazz Score:

  1. "Main Title" - 1:21
  2. "Poker Game" - 1:36
  3. "San Diego Party" - 4:08
  4. "Henry Leaves" - 1:39
  5. "Stakeout" - 4:01
  6. "Barbara Surrenders" - 2:05
  7. "Trio Convicted" - 1:11
  8. "Trip to Corona" - 1:28
  9. "Peg's Visit" - 2:36
  10. "Gas Chamber Unveiling" - 1:03
  11. "Nightmare Sequence" - 1:08
  12. "Preparations for Execution" - 2:50
  13. "Letter Writing Sequence" - 1:25
  14. "The Last Mile" - 1:48
  15. "Death Scene" - 1:04
  16. "End Title" - 0:56

The Jazz Combo from I Want to Live!:

  1. "Black Nightgown" - 3:33
  2. "Theme from "I Want to Live"" - 6:54
  3. "Night Watch" - 3:55
  4. "Frisco Club" - 4:43
  5. "Barbara's Theme" - 4:39
  6. "Life's a Funny Thing" - 7:44



I Want to Live! was remade for television in 1983. It featured Lindsay Wagner, Martin Balsam, Pamela Reed, Harry Dean Stanton, Dana Elcar, Ellen Geer, Robert Ginty and Barry Primus.


Film director Sergio Leone watched the movie on television when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

See also


  1. Bernstein, Matthew (2000). Walter Wanger: Hollywood Independent. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 446. ISBN 9780816635481.
  2. Gilmore, John (2005). L.A. Despair: A Landscape of Crimes and Bad Times. Los Angeles: Amok Books. pp. 288–91. ISBN 9781878923165.
  3. Telecast of movie and commentary by Robert Osborne, February 20, 2009.
  4. Papke, David Ray (2012). Law and Popular Culture: Text, Notes, and Questions. New York: LexisNexis. p. 440. ISBN 9780769847535.
  5. Stafford, Jeff. "I Want to Live". Turner Classic Movies. WarnerMedia. Retrieved December 15, 2015.
  6. "Susan Hayward". Variety. November 12, 1958. p. 5. Retrieved July 8, 2019 via Archive.org.
  7. Variety Staff (December 31, 1957). "I Want to Live!". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved March 24, 2008.
  8. Crowther, Bosley (November 19, 1958). "Vivid Performance by Susan Hayward; Actress Stars in I Want to Live". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved March 24, 2008.
  9. Blake, Gene (November 28, 1958). "Barbara Graham case revisited, November 28, 1958". Los Angeles Daily Mirror. Retrieved July 19, 2018 via Los Angeles Times.
  10. Bundy, June (March 9, 1959). "Late 50s Bid for Posterity Fame as Real 'Jazz Age'". Billboard: 42. Retrieved August 11, 2010.
  11. "I Want to Live! (1958)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  12. "The 31st Academy Awards | 1958". Oscars.org. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  13. "Official Ballot" (PDF). AFI's 10 Top 10. American Film Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  14. Cook, Stephen. I Want to Live – Review at AllMusic. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  15. "United Artists UAL-40000/UAL 4000 mono/UAS 5000 stereo Series" (PDF). Both Sides Now Publications. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
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