I Want to Live! is a drama dealing with the last years and the execution of Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward), who was convicted at one time or another of prostitution, perjury, forgery and murder. It is a damning indictment of capital punishment.
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. The screenplay is based on newspaper and magazine articles by San Francisco reporter Ed Montgomery, and on letters written by the woman herself. Its premise is that she was likely innocent of the vicious murder for which she was executed in the California gas chamber.
The final 30-40 minutes of the film are a purposely understated account of the mechanics involved in the state’s legal destruction of life. The execution sequence is almost unbearable, mounting unswervingly in its intensity.
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.
1958: Best Actress (Susan Hayward).
Nominations: Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, B&W Cinematography, Editing, Sound