Hudson is a hit Broadway playwright by day and a wealthy San Francisco heiress-socialite
by night—or vice versa. Lester Blaine is a talented stage actor, but he makes
better dough as a smooth-talking adventurer. Hudson fires Blaine from her next
box office triumph because she does not believe he is seductive enough, but
then falls hopelessly under his spell. However, when Hudson discovers her
husband’s true nature things get classically noir in David Miller’s digitally
restored Sudden Fear (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
is used to getting her way, so she pulls her playwright’s prerogative and cans
Blaine during rehearsals. Blaine is used to having his way, so he seduces
Hudson when they both happen to find themselves on the same train bound Frisco.
At first, they seem like a happy couple, despite their awkward history and
vintage early 1950s separate sleeping quarters. However, when Blaine’s femme
fatale ex Irene Neves shows up, she threatens to destabilize everything. They
have some rather scandalous personal and professional history together, but the
worst part is Blaine is still hung up on her.
has been toying with Junior Kearney, the son and junior partner of Myra Blaine
nee Hudson’s attorney and has discovered some very alarming news about her will.
Ironically, she intended to add codicils that would do right by Mr. Blaine, but
the two fortune hunters never haear about that. However, thanks to the
heiress-playwright’s automatic dictation machine, she knows they intend to kill
her over the weekend, before she can sign on the dotted line on Monday.
Cat-and-mouse business duly commences.
seems a bit strange Sudden Fear is
not more widely remembered, because it is a nifty little thriller that earned
Joan Crawford an Oscar nomination for a classically overwrought (in a good way)
Joan Crawford performance. Let’s just say she does not handle the discovery of
Blaine’s betrayal well at all. Of course, it is great fun to watch her segue
from twitchy meltdown to stone cold resolve.
Jack Palance (also Oscar nominated for what was only his third film role) is an
equally big screen presence as Blaine. He is lunky and sinister, but there is
also something sympathetically vulnerable about him. In contrast, Gloria
Grahame’s Neves is just pure unadulterated bad news. A young Mike Connors is
serviceable enough playing as Junior Kearney, while he was still billed as “Touch
Connors” (MST3K fans will remember that
unfortunate stage name from Swamp
Diamonds, with Beverly Garland). For extra added footnote interest, the
senior Kearney is played by Bruce Bennett (a.k.a. Herman Brix), an Olympic shot
put silver medalist, who was originally slated to play Tarzan in the Weissmuller-MGM
franchise and would assume the role in a dodgy independent production loosely
affiliated with Edgar Rice Burroughs. He’s fine too.
Crawford and Palance both do their thing, which
guarantees Sudden Fear will be good
back-stabbing fun. Miller was something of a studio journeyman, but he shows
flashes of stylish inspiration throughout the 1952 film. He also shrewdly
capitalizes on the San Francisco-Northern California locales, sometimes giving the
audience flashbacks (or rather flashforwards) to Hitchcock’s 1958 classic, Vertigo. It is a juicy dark thriller
that deserves a second lease on critical life. Highly recommended, Sudden Fear opens this Friday (8/12) in
New York, at Film Forum.
Labels: Bay Area Cinema, Film Noir, Jack Palance, Joan Crawford