Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Sudden Fear (1952) at the Noir City Film Festival

One of the real treats of the recent 21st Annual Noir City Film Festival was seeing SUDDEN FEAR (1952) for the very first time.

A restored digital print of SUDDEN FEAR was shown on Sunday evening, March 31st, along with THE NARROW MARGIN (1952).

Although THE NARROW MARGIN is one of my favorite films, I've been fortunate to see it on a big screen multiple times, and since my husband had to be up at "dark o'clock" Monday morning to fly out of town on business, we only saw SUDDEN FEAR that evening. That one film was more than worth the drive to Hollywood. What a treat!

SUDDEN FEAR is a most enjoyable Joan Crawford film, in a league with other Crawford movies I've enjoyed on a big screen such as MILDRED PIERCE (1945), FLAMINGO ROAD (1949), and FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955). She was such a compelling actress, more than deserving of her Best Actress nomination for this film. A piece by Sheila O'Malley for Roger Ebert.com calls her performance in SUDDEN FEAR "world-class acting."

Crawford plays Myra Hudson, who's both a wealthy heiress and a successful playwright. Myra has everything a woman could want, except love.

Enter Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), an actor Myra has fired from her latest play because he doesn't look like a romantic leading man. (Since this is absolutely true, it also works well in the larger context of the story.) Despite this rocky beginning to their relationship, Lester and Myra get to know one another on a westbound train and ultimately marry. Myra is blissfully happy.

Myra plans to update her will to include provisions for her husband and uses her dictaphone to make notes. Unbeknownst to her, Lester is quite a good actor and not the devoted husband he pretends to be. Lester is dissatisfied with the planned changes to the will and discusses both his feelings about this will and his plans to kill Myra with his mistress Irene (Gloria Grahame) -- not realizing that the dictaphone is picking up everything they say.

Boy, does Myra have a surprise coming when she tries to play back her notes the next day...

The scene where Crawford hears the conversation on the dictaphone is a simply sublime piece of screen acting, as Crawford listens and reacts. I had to think her early experience in silent film acting contributed to the way she nails the scene, with expressions of shock, hurt, fear, embarrassment, anger, nausea, and more crossing her face the longer the recording plays.

As a matter of fact, a huge chunk of Crawford's performance is nonverbal; she schemes to retaliate and do in Lester and Irene, and when the moment to carry out her plan arrives, we similarly see all her feelings playing out on her face, with no dialogue whatsoever. Everything the audience needs to know is communicated by Crawford nonverbally.

The film builds to a deliciously unexpected ending which is the cherry on the proverbial sundae. I loved this movie!

Palance will never be one of my favorite actors, but that actually works for his part here as he's revealed to be such a creep. This was his third film, and he received an Oscar nomination as Best Support Actor.

Grahame exudes a fascinating evil elegance in this one; she's perfect, all slinky temptation, toying with earnest young Junior Kearney (Mike "Touch" Connors, in his first film) while simultaneously plotting Myra's end with Lester.

How great to see Crawford's MILDRED PIERCE husband, Bruce Bennett, here playing her longtime attorney. Also look for Virginia Huston (Ann from OUT OF THE PAST) as Myra's trusted assistant. The cast also includes Selmer Jackson, Arthur Space, and in her typical bit role as a party guest, Bess Flowers.

The movie makes great use of San Francisco locations, although like the San Francisco set WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950) a couple years earlier, it mixes in scenes filmed at Bunker Hills in Los Angeles with real San Francisco locations!

SUDDEN FEAR was directed by David Miller. It was filmed in black and white by Charles Lang. The score was by Elmer Bernstein. The film has a running time of 110 minutes.

SUDDEN FEAR is available on Blu-ray from the Cohen Film Collection, with a commentary track by Jeremy Arnold. I'm looking forward to listening to that track in the near future to learn more about this excellent movie.

A note for anyone interested in seeing the film, DVD Beaver indicates that the Cohen release is far and away the best version of the film available for home viewing.

Recommended.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

One movie that I saw JOAN CRAWFORD in was THE BEST OF EVERYTHING that starred HOPE LANGE, DIANE BAKER & SUZY PARKER. Joan played their boss. It also had MARTHA HYER, STEPHEN BOYD, and BRETT HALSEY. One thing I like about Joan is that I read that she kept up a exhaustive correspondence with her friends and fans. She knew the public put her where she was, they made her a star. She wrote a complimentary letter to AGNES MOOREHEAD after Agnes won an EMMY award. GLORIA GRAHAME-two of the movies I saw her in were THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH and THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL with DICK POWELL, KIRK DOUGLAS & GILBERT ROLAND in her part of the movie. She won the OSCAR for that movie (supporting actress). CLASSIC TV FAN

10:56 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

It comes as no surprise to me that you enjoyed the film so much, Laura! I think it contains all the right ingredients for your enjoyment. As you say, one of Crawford's best screen performances. And David Miller's pacing of the story is excellent.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Classic TV Fan, I have THE BEST OF EVERYTHING on my shelves and look forward to watching it. Great cast!

Jerry, you're right, it really did have so many fantastic ingredients in a well-paced movie. Looking forward to taking another look at it via the commentary track very soon.

Best wishes,
Laura

1:28 PM  

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