Chances are you’ve watched an awful movie, recognized a supremely talented actor, and thought “what are they doing in this?” For example: when Oscar winner Patty Duke tears the wig from Oscar winner Susan Hayward’s head in the 1967 Valley of the Dolls adaptation. Thankfully, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will instead kick off its annual Jazz on Film series with Hayward at her prime in I Want to Live!—the film that won her an Academy Award and started a trend of jazz-inspired scores.
I Want to Live! is a true crime story, a “woman’s picture,” a courtroom drama, and at times a black comedy; think elements of O.J.: Made in America or Making a Murderer in black and white. Hayward plays lifelong criminal Barbara Graham as she navigates California’s seedy criminal underworld, undergoes a highly publicized murder trial, and is finally sentenced to death. Based on a true story, “Bloody Babs” became a national sensation after her various attempts to falsify alibis and bribe witnesses shattered her courtroom credibility and cemented her guilt.
A legendary West Coast jazz score simmers beneath this action, with appearances by players such as Shelly Manne and Frank Rosolino peppered throughout and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan's combo narrating gritty bars scenes. The score was released as two albums and joined contemporaries like Elevator to the Gallows and Anatomy of a Murder in a wave of jazz-heavy scores that swept Hollywood.
Whether you care about the painfully raw closeup of Hayward as she is sentenced to death or the star-studded soundtrack, the film is a must-see kickoff to the monthlong series.
Tickets $9. Screening on Saturday, June 3 as part of the MFAH Jazz on Film series. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. More information at mfah.org.