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Fourteen Hours (1951) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique

cosick suicide dunnigan ledge

Principal social themes: suicide/depression, homosexuality, divorce

Twentieth Century Fox. No MPAA rating. Featuring: Richard Basehart, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Debra Paget, Agnes Moorehead, Robert Keith, Howard da Silva, Jeffrey Hunter, Martin Gabel, Grace Kelly, Frank Faylen, Jeff Corey, Ossie Davis, Harvey Lembeck, Russell Hicks, Leif Erickson, Joyce Van Patten. Written by John Paxton based on an article by Joel Sayre. Cinematography by Joe MacDonald. Edited by Dorothy Spencer. Music by Alfred Newman. Produced by Sol Siegel. Directed by Henry Hathaway. B&W. 92 minutes.

Overview

Fourteen Hours is a well-made suspense film about a man who steps onto the ledge outside his New York hotel room and threatens to jump. All events in the film rotate around this key event, including the police efforts to talk the man out of suicide, the media coverage, and the reaction of people watching the occurrence. The end credits encourage the work of emergency rescue squads in dealing with troubled individuals threatening suicide.

Synopsis

A young man named Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart), registered in an upper-story room of the Hotel Rodney in lower Manhattan, climbs out onto the ledge while a bellhop wheels in and sets up his breakfast. Noticing the open window, the bellhop pokes his head out, and Cosick warns him to stay away or he will jump. A woman below sees Cosick on the ledge and screams, alerting Dunnigan (Paul Douglas), a traffic cop patrolling Broadway. He phones in a report and races upstairs. A crowd begins to gather on the street. Dunnigan tries to talk to the nervous man on the ledge, and his easygoing manner starts to win Cosick’s confidence. A police squad under Deputy Chief Moskar (Howard da Silva) arrives and relieves Dunnigan. Cosick clams up when other people try to talk with him. Ruth, a young woman on her way to work, decides to watch the unfolding drama instead. She makes the acquaintance of Danny, a young businessman who also stops to watch. Newsmen and television cameras are set up to cover the event. Mrs. Fuller (Grace Kelly) visits her lawyer to sign divorce papers, but her husband is delayed due to the traffic tie-up in the streets. She starts to concentrate her attention on observing Cosick from the office window. Dr. Strauss (Martin Gabel), a psychiatrist assisting the squad, advises Moskar to bring Dunnigan back to converse with Cosick. The more he talks, the better the chance the man will abandon his suicide attempt. Cosick starts to open up with Dunnigan, saying that he has to think things through before he makes a decision. He trusts Dunnigan enough to accept a cigarette and a glass of water from him. Alerted by the media publicity, Cosick’s divorced parents come to the scene. Christine (Agnes Moorehead), his mother, only upsets Cosick when she tries to talk to him. Dr. Strauss considers her a manipulative woman who likely provoked many of her son’s problems. Cosick responds better with his father, a nervous but mild-mannered man whom Cosick had not seen for many years. Finally, the police locate Virginia Foster (Barbara Bel Geddes), Cosick’s girlfriend, and she arrives to talk with him as the stand-off continues into the night. Dunnigan slowly makes progress with Cosick, until he agrees to come in off the ledge. Suddenly, a spotlight is turned on from the street below, which startles Cosick and he falls. He is caught, however, in a net that the police set up several floors beneath the ledge. Cosick is brought in and Dr. Strauss begins to treat him. The psychiatrist tells Dunnigan that Cosick will be all right, that the crisis has passed largely due to Dunnigan’s efforts. The policeman’s wife meets him in the street below as he finally gets to head home. Other people have also been brought together by the fourteen-hour ordeal. Ruth and Danny, the observers, have fallen in love. The Fosters have reconciled, due in part to their concern for the man on the ledge.

Critique

Fourteen Hours provides an excellent focus on the issue of suicide. Richard Basehart is convincing and excellent in his portrayal of a person on the verge of self-destruction. Incidentally, Basehart faced a personal crisis during the making of this film when his wife, Stephanie, passed away due to a brain tumor. Production shut down briefly until Basehart was able to resume work. Paul Douglas is equally good as the cop who talks him through his crisis, with advice from the psychiatrist. The script is not flawless. Setting the critical events in mid-March (St. Patrick’s Day) is a mistake because the drama is depicted as taking place in summer-like temperatures instead of the end of winter. The subsidiary stories with the divorce drama of the Fosters and the emerging romance of Ruth and Danny are not bad, but they are somewhat intrusive. The other subplots, such as the cabbies who bet on the hour when Cosick will jump, are far better integrated into the story. The best moments of the script are the ones that deal with the psychology of suicide and the roots of Cosick’s depression. What factors drove him to consider suicide? How did his relationships with his mother, father, and girlfriend set up his crisis. Was his parents’ divorce a delayed catalyst to his attempt? How did Dunnigan, with minimal training in crisis intervention, fulfill Cosick’s needs? Are the psychiatrist’s comments really intended for Dunnigan or the audience as a whole? Is Chief Moskar an asset or an obstacle to the attempt to prevent Cosick’s suicide? How would a suicide rescue squad have operated in his place? Considering that Cosick began his experience on the ledge in the middle of his encounter with the bellhop, can this suicide attempt be seen as a cry for help? Can this be true of most unsuccessful suicide attempts? One suggested theory was that Cosick was a homosexual and unable to come to terms with his orientation. The script, it is insinuated, tried to suggest this possibility without bringing it out into the open. Since Fourteen Hours was one of Twentieth Century Fox’s major productions of 1951, the studio did not want to confront this controversial issue head on, but still wanted this to be left open as a plausible interpretation. How does the dialogue and facts we learn about Cosick support or undercut this possibility? Fourteen Hours set the model for later, derivative films. Another telefilm, Man on the Ledge (1955), is actually a remake with Cameron Mitchell assuming the part played by Richard Basehart.

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