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Joan Crawford's reputation as a gay icon and crazed child abuser courtesy of "Mommie Dearest" have tended in recent years to overshadow her considerable talents as an actress. When she died in 1977, a journalist wrote that she was one of the few major movies stars in Hollywood's Golden Age to create a genre all her own. It's true that she was often seen in rags-to-riches sagas, but in "Sudden Fear" (****), one of the best suspense thrillers ever made I feel, she is simply terrific as an already wealthy playwright who marries struggling actor Jack Palance, then accidentally discovers that he and his girlfriend Gloria Graham are planning to murder her for her money. After the initial shock wears off, she devises a plan to turn the tables on them both. The chasm between the clockwork perfection of the plot she devises in her imagination, and the unexpected setbacks that develop in the real-life execution of it, keep this gripping film hugely entertaining. Fine direction, atmospheric night photography of San Francisco locations and even occasional mordantly witty dialogue don't hurt, either. (You may never hear the line "I was just wondering what I had done to deserve you" quite the same way again.)
This is a real edge-of-your-seat nail-biter. David Miller did a terrific job of directing this one, and the cinematography is spectacular by Charles Lang. Some of the shots are as inspired as anything ever seen in Hollywood, such as one in Joan Crawford's library where upon hearing an inadvertent recording made on her dictaphone, she gradually shrinks back in horror against the far wall, until she becomes nearly a dot in the distance. That shot is a real triumph of cinematic inspiration. Much is accomplished with a clock and its pendulum, with the star-shaped pendulum at one point shown in shadow swinging across her chest as she gets more and more anxious. None of this is overdone, but is all subtle and effective. Joan Crawford has us all spellbound with her magnificent performance. She throws vanity to the winds, and is not afraid to show her character as someone in the round, complete with cowardice, foolishness, and even extreme stupidity, combined with cunning, intelligence, charm and inspiration. Rarely has a woman been shown so soaked in sweat with sheer terror, and she must have stepped straight out of the shower for each of those shots. When we aren't staring at her incredulous, we notice that Jack Palance is highly effective, and then we have the delectable treat of Gloria Grahame turning up. Which true cineaste does not adore Gloria Grahame? She herself probably never knew what all the fuss was about, regarding herself no doubt as an ordinary girl. But Gloria Grahame was far from ordinary. She had that indefinable something plus a lot of other somethings, which for reasons which are deeply mysterious and impossible to explain leave many people like myself in a state of entranced wonder. What was it about her? No matter how many times we watch her we will never know, all we can say is there will never be another one. This film is a real humdinger.
Joan Crawford is an heiress and a famous playwright. During rehearsals,
she insists that Jack Palance be fired: It's not that he isn't a good
actor. He just doesn't have the matinée idol looks, she maintains.
Before we know it, the play has been successfully launched and she is
on a train back to San Francisco. Who should kind of turn up on this
train but Palance? He and Crawford play poker and she falls in love
with him. OK, it seems: He wasn't right for a Broadway Don Juan. But
for an unmarried lady of a certain age like her, he has just what it
The fact that Crawford and Palance (the actors) have no chemistry isn't a problem. In a way, it works in the movie's favor. We know he hasn't forgotten the humiliation she put him through. We know she thought him not so hot to begin with.
Gloria Graham is used well as his girlfriend. They're kind of rough with each other too. He speaks of breaking all her bones, rather casually and almost endearingly.
Once Crawford and Palance have married, the suspense heats up. It's a highly suspenseful film -- well written and well directed. Palance is nimble in his role and Crawford is at her very best too. My problem with it is that I've seen it a few times and the print has never been good, which is a problem in the dark scenes toward the end.
But compare this with other movies Crawford was making at around the same time. "Torch Song" is one of the most outrageously ludicrous star vehicles of all time. "Queen Bee" is pretty funny, too -- unintentionally, of course. "Female on the Beach" ... In all the others, men come from miles to fall at Joan's feet. (Speaking of feet, "Sudden Fear" seems, for whatever reason to have more than a usual number of close-ups of its stars stockinged feet and her shoes.) No one has ever seen anyone so beautiful as Crawford in these movies. Maybe this made sense at the time but it doesn't now. She was near 50. Inthose days, this was like being near 65 for a woman.
In "Sudden Fear," she is an old maid. No one comments on her appearance one way or another. She is rich and successful but it doesn't seem that we're meant to view her as a great beauty. What we have instead is a beautiful movie -- quite possibly her best.
Joan Crawford is a playwright who marries Jack Palance and then realizes he
is planning to kill her. The formula works this time, thanks largely to the
impressive acting of both Crawford and her leading man, Jack Palance. Gloria
Grahame is the "other woman" (as usual) and plays an important part in the
plot twist that provides a surprise ending.
Nail biting suspense, this is a film noirish kind of thriller that goes into full gear once Crawford learns her marriage is a mistake. Both Joan and Bette Davis (real-life rivals) were nominated for Best Actress Oscars when this was released (Davis for 'The Star') but they both lost to Shirley Booth (for 'Come Back, Little Sheba').
A good, crisp, no-nonsense thriller that showed us how good Jack Palance was in sinister roles.
In the film Jack Palance tells a woman during an embrace, "I could break your bones." And he means it romantically! That probably sums up the odd, entertaining, and off-beat nature of this movie. There is so much "eye-action" from Joan in this one that it's almost funny. Actually it is funny. Though Sudden Fear is not a comedy, it has moments that are truly hysterical in a "did they really just say that?" kind of way. Watch for the moments when Joan responds to overheard conversations, personal scheming, (or the voices in her head)with nothing but wide-eyed reaction shots. Joan is also a tremendously sympathetic character more so than in almost any other Crawford film I've ever seen (and I've seen almost all of them). I caught this film on TV one night and was utterly surprised at how entertaining it was. Not that I had low expectations but Sudden Fear wasn't a film I'd ever heard of. It was proof that there are lots of dark diamonds hidden out there. We all know about the "top 100" lists and the legendary films on them but there are gems worth watching that never got the attention they should have. I watched from beginning to end not knowing what to expect. Truly thrilling in places and just plain classic Crawford. Watch for the moment when Joan embraces her love interest Palance and asks, "I was just wondering what I'd done to deserve you."
"Sudden fear" is everything a good thriller should be.An inventive use
of the recorder (an antique today!);The "revenge is a dish best eaten
cold" subject masterfully treated;The "flashforwards" in the
conditional tense -the "accidents" ,"Irene's schedule"-;the things
which seem banal and which play a prominent part in the story:the
clock,the wind-up toy,the mirror,all contributes to building a film
full of suspense .The three leads ,Joan Crawford , a wealthy lady
getting old and thinking she 's found true love,Jack Palance ,not the
romantic lead of her play but a disturbing character ,and Gloria
Grahame at her bitchiest are terrific.
Like this?Try these.......
"Sorry wrong number" Anatole Litvak 1948
"Dial M for Murder" Alfred Hitchcock 1954
"Les Diaboliques" Henri Georges Clouzot 1955
"Sleep my love" Douglas Sirk 1948
Jack Palance has always looked a little maniacal and he plays it here. Just
imagine seeing this one in the theater when it arrived on the scene in
San Francisco is the backdrop for a mystery that builds until the very end. Joan Crawford is a wanted woman and doesn't crack too many smiles over the last 40 minutes of the picture.
The beauty of this film is its simplicity. There could have been a dozen different endings but this one works.
We won't talk plot--you'll just have it see it for yourself--you won't be disappointed.
Film Noir was never more suspenseful and energetic than in this, a wonderful movie. The best reason to see this film is for one of the three principals, either Jack Palance, whose portrayal of a murderous actor husband is great, Gloria Grahame's role as a sultry other woman conspiring with Palance to murder his wife is deftly played, and the best of all is Joan Crawford, who steals every scene and gives a greatly emotional and wholly impeccable performance as the wealthy playwright wife to Jack Palance and would-be murder victim. If this movie ever shows up, DON'T miss it. You'll be quite sorry, for this is a brilliant motion picture.
This picture, as well as the re-issue of KING KONG, were the first two
movies to be heavily advertised on television. A big success for RKO
Radio Pictures. Being an RKO Picture you can expect lots of on-location
photography and seeing places like New York and San Francisco as they
were 55 years ago adds to the appeal of this fine movie.
SUDDEN FEAR was nominated for 4 Academy Awards (given in 1952 for high quality rather than political opinion), and this recognition was well deserved. An obvious -- and pretty successful -- imitation of Hitchcock this movie is one of the best murder mysteries ever made. I've never seen Joan Crawford or Jack Palance play better roles. David Miller's direction is inspired. And the black and white cinematography meets the highest standard.
Since they haven't yet made a good movie in 2008, and apparently intend to continue a 90% diet of so-called action movies --- utterly lacking in courage or purpose, where the hero solves made-believe problems by using computer animation instead of brains... Don't get me started. Just go back to the good ones, rent the DVD of Sudden Fear.
It seems that the first impressions are really the most lasting. No
matter how seriously we take that into account, a slightly similar
conclusion could arise at the encounter of a playwright Myra Hudson
(Joan Crawford) with an actor she auditions. Lester Blaine (Jack
Palance) does not appear to be HER idea of a romantic leading man, "he
just looks romantic but does not sound so." What is more, his notion
about an oil painting of Casanova leaves confusing riddle within her
mind and yet...she will soon stand before the dilemma to make up her
mind and stick to it no matter what price she is going to pay.
Like Joan Crawford did not, initially, prefer Jack Palance as her leading man in the motion picture, Myra Hudson did not fancy Lester. Changing her mind, however, occurs inevitable. Myra soon utters romantically "Without you I have nothing!" And yet, is the truth about him disguised behind a romantic smile? Will sudden fear occur to disillusion Myra and rescue her from sudden murder?
When I have recently viewed this wonderful film noir, I felt it was the right time because I had already got to know the greatest films of the genre, not superior ones but similar ones. What I mean by that are the films directed by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. When seeing SUDDEN FEAR, you had better be acquainted with some of Hitchcock's best films because then, you may realize that SUDDEN FEAR has so much in common with the gem of noir. It's Hitchcock's fertile theme and Miller's stylish bravura. From the characters, objects, undertones, certain details, doom-filled atmosphere to the unique charm of San Francisco and the utterance that seems to be the core of Hitchcock's suspense: "This place is so perfect for an accident." Let me broaden some aspects of David Miller's picture which make us see it as one of the greatest representatives of its genre in the purest form.
The TORMENTED LEADING CHARACTER, Myra Hudson played brilliantly by Joan Crawford, highlights something truly ahead of its time. As an executive producer of SUDDEN FEAR, Ms Crawford allows viewers to get into her inner psyche and provokes a progressive approach: we psychoanalyze her as a character! Nothing like a linear storytelling, forget it! Yet, something that talks about a psychological world. We psychoanalyze her 'professional eye' in the theater scene, her coldness melted on a train at the match game that becomes as mysterious as the manipulative flirts, her 'blind confidence' in wedding Lester, the seeds of doubt that are being slowly planted from the moment he does not answer her phone. As a matter of fact, this is a purely genius scene when viewers-observers, unlike Myra herself, are granted a signal: "something is wrong about him." As a result, we differ from Myra, we feel suspicion earlier than her and, consequently, wait for her disillusion. When the unbelievable shock comes in her library and she confronts the reality, her behavior is utterly unpredictable: she does not resort to a state of blending fantasy with reality but remains cold and disguised both to us and to the people around her. In that respect, isn't she a typical Hitchcock's leading lady? Apart from one difference - she is not a blonde. Nominated for Oscar, Joan Crawford offers us a pure masterwork of acting.
JACK PALANCE, who replaces Ms Crawford's initial wish of casting Marlon Brando or Clark Gable, is truly surprising as a leading man. The fact we are not used to him in such a highlighted performance that combines a doe-eyed romanticist with a secret fox makes the effect even more memorable. An important fact here to state is that Lester is equally appealing in the psychoanalyzing approach as Myra. His pretense at the beginning, his patronizing behavior on the train, his look at hands, and his gradual 'promotion' in Myra's eyes beautifully depict an ambitious type. Later, his vitality and efforts are, somehow, focused on two women: Myra and Irene. When Myra begins to be his object of wealth's desire, Irene becomes his object of lust's desire. She is a 'blonde of lust.' Their scheme is a realization of their sexuality - something very Hitchcock-like where crime goes with sex. "Kiss me hard..." Note the love scene at the fireplace in the summerhouse and the way it is shot. Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Jack Palance appears to give a performance beyond our expectations.
Another great aspect that makes the genre so engrossing and absorbing is the use of objects that manipulate our perceptions and the cinematography that builds the atmosphere. Staircase scenes that purely recall STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and many great noir genres. And the objects including the clock that reveals heartbeat, the phone that disturbs the chain of emotions and rises fear, and, above all, the DICTATING MACHINE that becomes, in a way, another character of the story. The nightmarish fantasy seems to recall SPELLBOUND. The atmosphere is immensely powerful as the secret is partly revealed by the dictating machine ("I know a way") and Myra's reaction being one of the most natural and daring we can encounter. Mind you the realism (she vomits and we deduce it). Charles Lang's cinematography reaches the climax in the shots of interiors where everything seems to be overwhelmed by torments: images are combined with various sounds from the clock ticking to screaming and morose silence.
For a number of reasons, SUDDEN FEAR is a surprisingly modern entertainment, its age makes it a unique achievement on its own and the one that will never be duplicated thanks to top rate performances, haunting cinematography, plenty of daring ideas. A really ambitious and insightful production. One and only in its riveting entertainment!
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