Fourteen Hours ★★★½

Henry Hathaway (THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER) did a marvelous job directing this suspense tale, sort of a forerunner to PHONE BOOTH, but as the title indicates, not told in real time. Peppered with familiar character actors — hey, Frank Faylen is the waiter! And those cab drivers are Ossie Davis and Harvey Lembeck! — FOURTEEN HOURS is primarily driven by its dual leads. Paul Douglas (EXECUTIVE SUITE) is a beat cop whose morning shift gets off to an eventful start when he looks up to see a suicidal Richard Basehart (TIME LIMIT) balanced precariously on a window ledge 15 floors above the sidewalk.

Hathaway opens up the film to involve Basehart’s indirect influence on the bystanders and gawkers, some of whom make bets on the jumper’s final fate. Debra Paget (LOVE ME TENDER) and Jeffrey Hunter (KING OF KINGS) meet cute on the sidewalk below and strike up a conversation, Grace Kelly (REAR WINDOW) reconsiders filing divorce papers, and Agnes Moorehead (MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION) drops in as Basehart’s mother. But these subplots are plainly superfluous — it’s really the byplay between Basehart and the warm Irish Douglas that gives the film its nervous energy. Fox assigned Basehart to a role originally intended for Richard Widmark. He played the part with bad knees and bandaged legs from poison oak, and his wife died of a brain tumor during production.

Much of the film was shot on location in Manhattan, and the black-and-white art direction, primarily the hotel ledge, received FOURTEEN HOURS’ only Academy Award nomination. Making their credited big-screen debuts: Kelly, Hunter (who made this before CALL ME MISTER, which was released first), and Joyce Van Patten (I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS) in a small role as Paget’s friend. As 20th Century Fox was wont to do, the studio remade the John Paxton (CROSSFIRE) screenplay as a LUX RADIO THEATRE episode (starring Douglas) and a 20TH CENTURY FOX HOUR television episode with Cameron Mitchell and William Gargan.