Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

I Want to Live! (1958)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

I Want to Live! (1958)

In director Robert Wise's grim and dramatic biopic about a convicted female murderess facing execution (via the California gas chamber) in the 1950s in San Francisco:

  • the pre-titles and ending prologue/epilogue by San Francisco Examiner reporter-journalist Edward Montgomery (Simon Oakland)
  • the character of hard-living, bad-luck woman Barbara Ward Graham (Oscar-winning Susan Hayward), a prostitute and petty criminal convicted of felony murder although she vowed her innocence and claimed she was falsely accused, when appearing for a TV interview: ("I'm innocent...I'm completely innocent. I was home with my family that night. They'll all die violently. The spies, the liars, all the ones who want me dead - I'm innocent...I swear it. I swear it on my baby's life. May God strike him dead if I'm guilty")
  • the scene when Barbara was ordered in her cell to change from a negligee to prison garb nightgown by Corona Warden (Olive Blakeney), and she complained: "Provocative? There's nothing but dames here! Not a man within miles! And I've got these for a chastity belt! Oh, boy, would I love to have somebody to provoke!" - but then she agreed: "OK. OK, I'll take it off. But I won't wear your burlap job. I'll sleep raw!"
  • the pre-dawn, death-row cell scene of Barbara's discussion with a friendly prison nurse when she nostalgically described a self-sacrificing, fictitiously-happy marriage with "Hank" (Henry) Graham (Wesley Lau): "My Henry was a wonderful husband. He brought home flowers or candy almost every night. And he was always giving me money to buy things with. And talk about doting fathers. No sacrifice was too great for our boy. No, I've, I've got to admit, I had an ideal marriage....I left my husband because I was holding him back. You see, he was up for a Vice Presidency in the bank where he worked and I was afraid he wouldn't get the promotion because of me. For an important job like that, they consider the wife as carefully as they do the husband" - and then at 8 am that morning, she enjoyed a hot fudge sundae as part of her last breakfast meal
  • the tense moments when Barbara's execution was delayed numerous times, but then quickly reversed each time; in one instance, she grabbed her head when the phone rang with the news that she had another stay - and she cried out to the priest: "Father, why do they torture me? Why do they torture me?"; just before her last trip to the chamber when the execution was confirmed to proceed, she requested a mask: "I want a mask. I don't wanna look at people. I don't wanna see them staring at me" - she was given a sleep mask to wear
  • the final, realistic San Quentin gas-chamber execution scene when the heroine was given last words of advice: "When you hear the pellets drop, count ten, take a deep breath - it's easier that way" and her response: "How do you know?"
Gas Chamber Execution Scene
  • the image of Barbara clenching her fist, then slumping over in death with her fist going limp
  • the last lines of the film: Barbara's letter (heard in voice-over) to Ed Montgomery, thanking him: "Dear Mr. Montgomery - There isn't much I can say with words. They always fail me when most needed. But please know that with all my heart, I appreciate all you've done for me. Sincerely, Barbara"
Barbara's Letter


TV Interview: "I'm Completely Innocent..."

"I'll Sleep Raw!"

Barbara to Prison Nurse: "My Henry was a wonderful husband..."

Desperation: "Why do they torture me?"

Barbara: "I don't wanna see them staring at me"


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