Tuesday, May 19, 2015


On St. Patrick's Day morning, bellboy Frank Faylen is on a room service call at the Hotel Rodney; he brings in the cart, then turns around to find the guest (Richard Basehart) gone: he's climbed out on the ledge and is threatening to jump. A lowly but friendly traffic cop (Paul Douglas)—Irish, of course—is the first one on the scene, followed by his brusque superior (Howard Da Silva) who is irritated when he finds out that Basehart will only talk to Douglas. As police, fire trucks, and crowds congregate below, Basehart, seemingly a mild-mannered fellow, won't say what the problem is, but soon a psychiatrist (Martin Gabel) theorizes that he has mommy issues, and when his parents show up, we can believe it: Mother (Agnes Moorehead) is shrill and overbearing, and Father (Robert Keith) is passive and a drinker. Gabel thinks that Mom didn't really want Basehart and unconsciously led him to dislike his father. They soon find out that Basehart has recently broken up with his lovely and wholesome girlfriend (Barbara Bel Geddes) after he told her he could never make her happy. As all these threads present themselves, the day turns into night and Basehart is still on the ledge.

First off, despite Fox's publicity, this is in no way, shape or form a film noir: most of it takes place in daylight, and almost every scene is set either on the ledge or in the hotel room. The hero, the cop, is not a dark and conflicted figure; Basehart, who might be seen as a kind of noir anti-hero, is not fleshed out at all—we never find out what his problem is, though of course now we can fill in the blanks that they couldn't make plainer back then: his mom has made him gay. Still, it's a nice, fairly taut thriller, given the lack of what we would call "action." At one point, Basehart is talked back into the room, but a crazy preacher scares him back out on the ledge. He almost loses his footing a couple of times, and the fairly abrupt ending is tense. Given he has little to work with, Basehart (pictured) makes the character memorable, and Douglas is very good as the average-Joe cop who becomes invested in saving Basehart. The first several minutes of the movie, as Faylen enters the room and Basehart winds up on the ledge, have no dialogue, and the first human sound is a woman's scream from the streets. There are some peripheral bystanders on the ground: Grace Kelly, in her first movie role, plays a woman heading to her lawyer to finalize a divorce; Jeffrey Hunter (in only his second credited role) and Debra Paget are two strangers who make a romantic connection during the hubhub. Despite a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, this actually is based on a real incident from some years earlier. [FMC]

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