6 Hours to Live. 1932. USA. Directed by Wilhelm (William) Dieterle. With Warner Baxter, Miriam Jordan, John Boles. 35mm. 72 min.
Assassinated by unknown agents on the day of a crucial vote at an international trade conference, a diplomat (Warner Baxter) is brought back to life by a renegade scientist—but only for six hours, during which he must find his killer, say farewell to his fiancée (Miriam Jordan), donate his fortune to a repentant prostitute (Irene Ware), comfort a grieving mother (Beryl Mercer) with intimations of the world beyond, and cast a courageous vote in favor of world peace. One of the most striking of several pacifist films produced by the Hollywood studios in the early 1930s, 6 Hours to Live evokes the 1931 World Disarmament Conference held by the League of Nations, which aimed, in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “to wholly eliminate from possession and use the weapons which make possible a successful attack.”
Although the conference (which was still in the headlines when the film was released on October 16, 1932) was largely directed at the fear of German rearmament, the film itself is another example of Fox Film’s Germanic affinity and was one of three Fox features directed by Weimar veteran and erstwhile Murnau actor William Dieterle, before he settled down at Warner Bros for a long-term contract. Here, he works with cinematographer John F. Seitz to imbue the film with a dense chiaroscuro and an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere, anticipating the brooding mysticism of such later Dieterle films as All that Money Can Buy (1941) and Portrait of Jennie (1949). Although star Warner Baxter is largely forgotten today (perhaps because so many of his films went up in the Fox vault fire), he was one of Fox Film’s most popular performers, and had won the second Academy Award for Best Actor in 1929 for the Fox Movietone production In Old Arizona.