Day 11 of Noirvember: And Now For Something Completely Different
For today’s celebration of Noirvember, I’m not only offering a write-up on a film noir I’d never seen before, Fourteen Hours (1951), but I’m also trying something a little different. When I watch films that I’m going to write about, I take notes first and then I work on the article. This post is going to consist primarily of my actual notes and observations of the film – with some additional information sprinkled throughout for good measure. I hope you like it! (Oh, and the whole post is one big-ass spoiler so, you’ve been warned.)
Shots of the skyscrapers of New York. A solitary cop walks his beat on a vacant street in the early morning hours of a new day. Inside the Rodney Hotel, a sullen bellhop delivers a tray of food – we only see the back of the head of the guest who opens the door, and when the bellhop turns to give the guy his change, he’s gone. The bellhop notices that the window of the bedroom is open. He looks down at the street below, still calm and quiet and deserted. Then something to his right, on the ledge, catches his eye: two feet, belonging to the guest who’d opened the door. The bellhop’s eyes meet the terrified stare of the guy on the ledge, and then the silence is split by the shriek of a woman in an adjacent building. The cop walking his beat looks up, sees the guy on the ledge, and runs to a nearby phone to report the incident.
Exactly three minutes have passed since the film began, and these are the first words spoken: “Dunnigan, Traffic A. There’s a jumper on the ledge.”
There are a number of familiar faces in the movie: The second Gladys Kravitz from Bewitched is a telephone operator. Jeff Corey – a vet of several noirs including The Killers and Brute Force – is a cop. The guy who played The Great Gildersleeve, here a hotel employee, sticks his head out and tells the jumper with great authority: “You come in from there. You’ll have to come in from there. The police’ll be here in a minute!” As if that were a convincing argument. The bellhop is portrayed by Frank Faylen, who played Bert (or was it Ernie?) in It’s a Wonderful Life. (You know – the one who was the cab driver, not the cop.) (I’m not up to consulting the IMDB right now.) Brad Dexter, from The Asphalt Jungle and The Magnificent Seven, is a reporter (“You think he’s gonna jump this year, or you think it’s an act?”).
And there are a number of little touches, like the elevator operator who excitedly inquires, “Did he jump yet??” – as though he were asking whether his horse had come in first at Hialeah. And the two old ladies gazing upward from the sidewalk, one of them musing, “So what is it? Advertising?”
Meanwhile, the crowd outside is growing rapidly. Traffic snarls. Grace Kelly (in her screen debut) is an anxious passenger in a taxi, late for an appointment, and cab drivers are played by Ossie Davis and Harvey Lembeck. A cynical cabbie opines, “Ah, let him [jump]. Who cares? Think o’ how many guys gets killed in wars. Nobody stands around watchin’ ‘em. Any guy’s nuts enough, let ‘em. He’s better off. Everybody’s better off. I figured on a good day today.”
Joyce Van Patten is there, as the working girl pal of Debra Paget – Van Patten is late for her job and winds up leaving her friend behind (without so much as a “by your leave,” I might add). Jeffrey Hunter (also making his screen debut) is standing behind Paget, listening as she muses, “I wonder what kind of trouble he’s in. What made him so bitter. Maybe someone was cruel to him, or maybe he’s just lonely.” Jeffrey offers her a mint, but she politely declines (“No, thank you. I don’t think we’re acquainted.”). There are kids gathered on a nearby roof. The unfolding incident is being broadcast live on television and on the radio. A priest shows up, insisting that he’s the jumper’s pastor (“I work in faith and magnetism. I saved 17 souls last year,” he says). He’s shown the door.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day.
The cop who first phoned in the incident is played by Paul Douglas – he’s one of the first officers on the scene, and he immediately makes an effort to talk the jumper into coming inside; his first strategy is to shed his hat and jacket from his uniform and trade his dark tie with a tacky flowery one, in an effort to come off like just a regular guy. He also confesses to the jumper – who’s portrayed by Richard Basehart, incidentally – “I’m a cop, but I don’t shoot anybody. I’m on traffic detail. I was tagging a car downstairs when I saw you out here….You oughta come in and think it over. The longer you stay out here, the rougher it’s gonna be.”
Howard Da Silva, the deputy chief, arrives, all bluster and importance and authority – all I’m-in-charge-and-you’re-not. Da Silva sends Douglas back to his beat, but minutes later he’s forced to send for him when the jumper insists that he’ll talk to no one else.
When Douglas returns, the psychiatrist on the premises tries to coach him on how to handle the jumper: “It doesn’t matter [what you say]. Anything. Anything to sublimate his drive.” Douglas looks quizzical, winces slightly, and responds, “Easy doc – I took a little French, but I didn’t keep up with it.” (HA!)
At one point, the jumper asks for a glass of water. When Douglas goes to get it, he suggests to Da Silva that he could try to pull the jumper in when he reaches for the water, and we get this exchange:
Da Silva: He’d yank you, and then both of you would go over.
Douglas: Not if somebody hung on to me.
Da Silva: He’d yank us all. I don’t mind losing you, but I don’t want a whole daisy chain of cops sailing out that window.
The cab driver who doesn’t care if the guy jumps proposes that he and his stranded cabbie buddies start a pool, putting in a dollar a piece to guess what time the guy’ll jump. A reporter observes, “If he doesn’t hurry up, he’s going to miss the evening edition.”
Agnes Moorehead arrives on the scene. She’s the jumper’s mother – his hysterical, frantic mother – desperate and well-meaning, but wholly ineffectual. “What’s the matter?” she asks her son. “Oh, please come in. Nothing is this bad….I know you don’t want to do this to me. I haven’t done anything, have I? Are you in some sort of trouble? Do you need money? You haven’t been eating right. You’re just upset.”
The jumper’s father arrives, and he and Agnes Moorehead – who are divorced – immediately start sniping and spitting accusations. Da Silva breaks it up: “Okay okay okay – listen, both of you! I’ve got enough on my hands without this. I’m trying to talk your kid out of takin’ a dive. No wonder he’s cuckoo. You wanna put on the gloves, do it outside.” (The father is played by Robert Keith – from such films as The Wild One and Written on the Wind. In real life, he was the father of actor Brian Keith, who reportedly was in the film as an extra. I didn’t spot him, though.)
On the 15th floor of a building across the street, Grace Kelly is in her attorney’s office, waiting to finalize her divorce, barely listening as the lawyer drones on about “the disposition of the children.” Instead, she’s transfixed by the goings-on from the office window.
Jeffrey Hunter, who is getting to know Debra Paget in the crowd of onlookers (she’s accepting his mints by now), comments, “No matter how horrible something is, there’s always something good in it.” (Words to live by, huh?)
Meanwhile, the deputy chief and a group of cops rig up a rescue contraption, but a number of onlookers from nearby buildings warn the jumper of their approach, and he turns on Paul Douglas, accusing him of knowing about the rescue attempt. Douglas snaps right back: “Shaddap! Who d’ya think you’re yelling at anyway – who do you think you are? You open your trap to me like that just once more and I’ll come over there and push you off!” (The jumper ends up apologizing: “I’m mixed up.”)
Darkness falls over the city. Barbara Bel Geddes arrives – she’s the jumper’s ex-girlfriend. Like the others, she’s unsuccessful in convincing him to come inside. The jumper tells Douglas, “Ten good reasons. You should have 10 good reasons for anything. That’s a rule.” He tells him he might come in if Douglas can give him 10 good reasons why he should. “But you can’t,” he says. “Life stinks, and you know it.”
The police have continued their rescue plans – this time, they’ve hooked up a huge net on the outside of the building. Douglas keeps talking to the jumper – even inviting him to dinner and offering to take him fishing. It looks like the jumper is close to coming inside when a kid on the street, horsing around, bumps into a lever that shines a huge spotlight on the building and the jumper falls – into the net. He’s pulled inside to safety – to the shrieking cheers of the crowd below.
As the film ends, Douglas heads out of the hotel to find his wife and son waiting to greet him – and Paget and Hunter walk off together in the moonlight.
And that’s it. The End!
So there are no femme fatales, no heists, nobody gets killed. But this film is pretty darn dark – and, boy, is it well worth your time. Hunt it down and see it for yourself.
And join me tomorrow for Day 12 of Noirvember!