“Look, I almost had him a couple of times. I – I know I can con him in if I can just get my hands on what’s bothering him.”
It’s a peaceful, crisp clear morning in New York City. Many people are heading to work for what seems to be another ordinary and mundane day in the office, but what they don’t know is that their normal monotonous day is about to turn into an exhilarating fourteen hour ride that beats any humdrum task that the workplace has in store for them.
The above caption perfectly encapsulates the Fourteen Hours, a tense but chilling Film Noir that is now known as the production that gave birth to a legend, a new star on the horizon, who in a few years time would become one the greatest and most influential stars to ever adorn the silver screen. Her name as known the world over is Grace Kelly.
Grace Kelly, the prominent actress, who is best remembered by many as the gorgeous blonde in the Hitchcock films, would have celebrated her 87th birthday on November 12th. Noted for her luminous beauty, her refreshing charm, and her fairy tale marriage to Prince Rainier, Kelly is among the most recognizable icons from Hollywood’s golden age.
The legend known as Grace Kelly may have never materialized if it weren’t for Edith Van Cleve, the notable actress and theatrical agent, who witnessed potential in Kelly, and paved the way for her future success in motion pictures. Van Cleve, who had been introduced to Kelly by Don Richardson, gained full control over the aspiring young hopeful, and started sending her to auditions and casting calls for roles that met the requirements of a star who was not yet established in Hollywood.
For Grace Kelly, this was a long journey that ensured many triumphs and rejection, but at the end of the road, Kelly finally reached her dream destination in 1951, when she made her silver screen debut in Fourteen Hours, a film that is based on true events.
For a film that has faded into obscurity, and is very rarely mentioned today, some find it hard to believe that Fourteen Hours has a wealth of history behind it. The inspiration for the film came from the series of events that occurred on July 26th, 1938, when John William Warde, a twenty six year old native from Southampton, New York, plummeted to his death from the seventeenth floor of the Gotham Hotel after standing on the ledge for eleven hours, contemplating suicide.
Twelve years later, this tragic disaster made history once again when Hollywood transformed the incident into a motion picture spectacle, that was written for the screen by John Paxton, and based on a short article by Joel Sayre, titled, The Man On The Ledge, which reflected back on the 1938 debacle. The film featured a prominent array of stars, who all delivered solid dexterity under the masterful direction of Henry Hathaway, the renowned director who became notable for helming a string of financially successful westerns.
Based on a real life catastrophe that shocked the nation, Fourteen Hours chronicles the unfolding of events that take place on the fifteenth floor of New York City’s Rodney Hotel. The central protagonist in this story is, Robert Cosick ( Richard Basehart ), an emotionally unstable and despondent man, who decides that the only way to elude all the troubles in life is to commit suicide by jumping to his death. His attempts are halted however, when a waiter delivering breakfast witnesses the horrific sight of Robert standing on the ledge, and immediately calls for help. All of a sudden, Robert’s secret attempt at contemplating suicide turns into a media frenzy when a deluge of people on the streets watch on while Robert is being aided by Charlie Dunnigan ( Paul Douglas ), a traffic control police officer who along with others try their hardest to implore Robert to vanquish his suicidal thoughts.
In many ways, Fourteen Hours should be made essential viewing for people struggling with depression or other psychotic disorders that trigger unwanted suicidal thoughts. Looking through our own personal lens, we witness from a birds eye view the struggles of a dispirited person whose depression has affected him emotionally. In this case it’s Robert Cosick, a perturbed individual whose lifelong rejection has led to him envisioning the advantages of being deceased, and free of life.
As the movie progresses, snippets of Robert’s life is revealed through family, who paint a clear picture that slowly pieces together the information on what made the depression evolve. First we are introduced to Robert’s mother, Christine Hill Cosick ( Agnes Moorehead ), an hysterical woman whose frantic behavior exacerbates his mood, and lures him into jumping. We then meet his father, Paul Cosick ( Robert Keith ), a man who his mother has brought him up to despise, but while putting together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, police come to question the motive as to why his mother made his father into being his biggest enemy.
In addition to the commotion happening at the hotel, there is also a story revolving around Louise Fuller ( Grace Kelly ), who is in town to sign her divorce papers, but once she witnesses the spectacle, Fuller decides not to go ahead with the proceedings, and realizes that reconciling with her husband is more important than getting a divorce.
The shooting process for Fourteen Hours was not a happy experience for Richard Basehart whose wife Stephanie Klein passed away of a brain tumor that July, leaving Basehart distraught for most part of the production. Despite the fact however that he was grieving for his wife, Basehart’s delivery of a mentally disturbed man earned him a multitude of accolades.
Fourteen Hours is a film that captures the essence of realism. It is for this reason that Henry Hathaway was assigned as director. However, the film was initially suppose to be directed by Howard Hawkes, who declined once he found out that the production delved into a very heavy subject matter, which could be considered quite controversial at the time. As soon as Hathaway stepped into directorial duties, he commenced work on the picture, and started filming at the Twentieth Century Fox lot before moving to New York where the exteriors were filmed.
The film is also particularly notable for it’s impressive cast. While Robert Cosick and Charlie Dunnigan are the main focal points of the story, Agnes Moorehead steals every scene she’s in as Robert’s neurotic mother whose guilty instincts are about to be unraveled. Grace Kelly is also worthy of note. Even though her screen time is very limited, Kelly’s character, Louise Fuller is a pivotal figure in the movie. Also starring in the film is Barbara Belle Geddes, who plays Robert’s girlfriend. Though, Geddes only appeared towards the end of the film, she received third billing behind Paul Douglas, and Richard Basehart.
On its release, the film opened to many positive reviews. Bosley Crowther from ‘The New York Times’ stated that Fourteen Hours is a “gripping suspense, absorbing drama and stinging social comment in this film. He also went on to praise Hathaway’s directing technique, and the performances of Richard Basehart, and the other fellow cast members, while ‘Time Out Film Guide’ remarked that the film was a, “Vertiginous melodrama that recounts the event in professional low-key journalistic fashion.”. Coincidentally, Fourteen Hours was voted one of the best films of 1951.
Fourteen Hours may not have led to any immediate film offers for Grace Kelly, but it did open the door to a world of opportunities, as well as planting her in a reputable position in Hollywood’s constellation of stars. Her greatest epiphany occurred that Summer when an actor of the first magnitude visited the set of Fourteen Hours, and was immediately captivated by the alluring presence of Grace Kelly. The star was no other than Gary Cooper, an iconic figure from motion pictures, and one who Grace had always admired. From the moment that they first met, Cooper’s eyes were instantly fixated on this intriguing new star, who he said embodied all the characteristics of female virtue, and was unlike any other screen goddess that was in vogue at the time. Gary Cooper later stated, “I thought she looked pretty and different, and that maybe she’d be somebody. She looked educated, and as if she came from a nice family. She was certainly a refreshing change from all those bombshells we’d been seeing so much of.”
At the time of her chance meeting with Gary Gooper, Grace Kelly had no conception of what the future would bring, but even if she did have the slightest inkling, she certainly would never have dreamed that the following year she was going to make movie magic with Gary Cooper in the perennial western classic, High Noon.
A nonprofessional performer named Richard Lacovara doubled for Richard Basehart in long shots on the ledge, which had been enlarged to minimize risk of falling. Lacovara was protected by a canvas life belt hidden under his costume, connected to a lifeline, Even with the double, Basehart still had to endure over 300 hours of standing on the ledge with little movement during the fifty days of shooting in New York, even though he had a sprained ankle and his legs were ravaged by poison oak contracted on the grounds of his Coldwater Canyon home.
The production used a real bank building in New York (The Guaranty Trust Co.) and they planned to film all of the outdoor crowd scenes over Memorial Day weekend. However, the ledge on the bank building turned out to be too narrow, so an extension was built (12 inches deep, 42 feet wide)) and filming ended up taking two weeks. The entire bank building was dressed with curtains, a new entrance canopy, metal nameplates, and marquee. The replica of the hotel ledge that was built on Fox’s Stage 8 cost $32,000.
Richard Basehart: Born, John Richard Basehart on August 31st, 1914 in Zanesville, Ohio. Died: September 17th, 1984 in Los Angeles, California. Aged: 70. Cause of death: Stroke.
Paul Douglas: Born, Paul Douglas Fleischer on April 11th, 1907 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: September 11th, 1959 in Hollywood, California. Aged: 52. Cause of death: Heart attack.
Agnes Moorehead: Born, Agnes Robertson Moorehead on December 6th, 1900 in Clinton, Massachusetts. Died: April 30th, 1974 in Rochester, Minnesota. Aged 73. Cause of death: Uterine Cancer.