To be a sidewalk pancake or not to be a sidewalk pancake. That is the question.
We have a friend who once said that everyone's problems can be boiled down to, “Mommy and daddy didn't love me enough.” We don't agree, but 14 Hours, aka Fourteen Hours, takes that idea and runs with it as far and fast as it can, as Richard Basehart climbs onto a New York City hotel ledge and engages in the eternal existential wrestling match: To be or not to be? Most of the movie takes place on that ledge, as a beat cop played by Paul Douglas tries to talk Basehart out of splattering himself all over 55th Street.
The performances in this film were acclaimed at the time, and it also has an interesting collection of young, soon-to-be stars, including Debra Paget, pretty boy Jeffery Hunter, Barbara Bel Geddes, and the legendary Grace Kelly, who's twenty-two yet plays a mother of two about to be divorced. Yes, there are twenty-two-year-old mothers of two facing divorce, but it feels like a case of shoehorning her into the movie when her role was clearly written for an older actress. But hey, shoehorn away—she's Grace Kelly. She can play King Kong as far as we're concerned.
14 Hours is, on the whole, an involving and speedy flick. It is not a film noir, and we wish IMDB and Wikipedia didn't let their users label every vintage black and white drama a noir. This one is not even close to noir. It has almost none of that genre's standard iconography, and also lacks its required thematic underpinning. The American Film Institute officially calls it a suspense drama. Whatever its category, 14 Hours' ninety-two minutes are entertaining and technically proficient. To watch or not to watch? We say yes. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1951.
If you'd had sex with me I wouldn't be out here with the pigeons right now. Headquarters? Do not—I repeat do not—eat all the donuts. We'll get this nutjob off the ledge and be back there as quick as we can. I certainly don't want you to get desperate enough to climb onto a ledge. Let's go to your place and I'll show you what life is all about. Don't jump, son! Without you there'll be nobody around to listen to me complain about what a loser your father is! Hello, headquarters? Status check on those donuts. Just cooperate, mister! There are a lot of hungry cops up here!
Reaching the top isn’t easy. Staying on top is even harder.
Above is a Spanish poster by Josep Soligó Tena for La casa de la colina, which was originally released in the U.S. as The House on Telegraph Hill. The movie tells the story of a Polish concentration camp survivor—played by Valentina Cortese—who upon release takes the identity of her dead friend, and later insinuates herself into the lives of the dead woman’s San Francisco relatives. This identity swap is the classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin, which is to say it initially seems to be the plot driver, but later isn’t important at all. While Cortese’s labyrinthine lie is always a worrisome background element, the movie is really about how she finds herself embroiled in an inheritance mess and a love triangle. We thought this movie was quite good, but you do have to ignore bits like the improbable placement of a child’s playhouse above a sheer drop (in a sense, another MacGuffin, as the threat of falling has no bearing at all on later developments). Highly recommended movie, and it has nice San Fran exteriors as a bonus. The House on Telegraph Hill premiered in the U.S. in 1951, and as La casa de la colina in Spain today in 1952. See more work from Tena here.