Actor Lester Blaine has all but landed the lead in Myra Hudson's new play when Myra vetoes him because, to her, he doesn't look like a "romantic leading man." On a train from New York to San Francisco, Blaine sets out to prove Myra wrong...by romancing her. Is he sincere, or does he have a dark ulterior motive? The answer brings on a game of cat and mouse; but who's the cat and who's the mouse?
Joan Crawford ... Myra Hudson
Jack Palance ... Lester Blaine
Gloria Grahame ... Irene Neves
Bruce Bennett ... Steve Kearney
Virginia Huston ... Ann Taylor
Mike Connors ... Junior Kearney (as Touch Connors)
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 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
There are some very good features to this thriller that make up for its occasional flaws. Joan Crawford is very good in a role that gives her a chance to do a lot of different things, and the story builds up suspense effectively, to the point where you share in the anxiety and fear of her character. Those strengths make up for the implausible and occasionally unsatisfying plot turns.
Crawford's role gives her a chance to start off as a supremely confident, comfortable playwright, whose dream world is then transformed into a nightmare. She does quite a convincing job of taking her character through the joys, fears, and other turns that she experiences. It is largely thanks to her performance that the suspense build-up works especially well. By the time that the lengthy cat-and-mouse game in the last half of the movie begins, you are really thinking and feeling along with her. The crisis is built up skillfully, though again at the cost of some credibility.
This works very well the first time you see it. Watching it over again, it is easier to see through the less credible plot devices and other small flaws. But none of the flaws detract from Crawford's fine leading performance. Overall, it's a pretty good thriller and certainly well worth seeing once.
It really takes someone intellectually alive (like Hitchcock) to make a stinker as leaden and dead on arrival as Dial M for Murder. There it sits mired in tedium, stagebound and lifeless as when the first word was written, not benefiting from any of his intelligence. Sudden Fear takes a similar storyline and instead treats it like the hot, steamy love triangle it is, and produces a sleeper that's much more exciting, and rousing to watch. Crawford is a playwright whose married badly who decides to use all the stagecraft and plotting she can dream up to escape her own doom, and instead set up the two schemers who have it in for her.
If you grant it some leeway for it's dated touches, this is the kind of movie where at pivotal moments you lean forward in excitement because you can't wait to see where a freshly delivered surprise will lead you. Or you laugh out loud, startled at how the tables have turned on a character. I'm not a Crawford or a Bette Davis fan, but at least Crawford could act! She's emotionally engaged, she shares joy with other human beings, etc. The only thing Davis mastered on screen was contempt and selfishness. Gloria Grahame always plays this type of bad girl, but her performance here is one of her best, and the part is more substantial, because she's not just some decorative gun moll. There's a scene here, where she's almost unrecognizable because they haven't shellacked her with three inches of make-up as usual. (See The Man who Never Was)
Decades ahead of the Botox curve, Bruce Bennett (Mildred Pierce, Treasure of the Sierra Madre) recruits his immobile face to give his typical wooden performance. His lips barely even move when he talks.
Joan Crawford appeared in many films like this during the late 1940's and early 1950's, but this is certainly one of the better ones. While there are plot holes you can drive a bus through, some good directing and excellent acting pull this story off with a high degree of suspense and apprehension. Some reviewers are really trashing this poor film more than it deserves; remember Miss Crawford WAS nominated for an Oscar for this work.
My initial impression was that this was not going to be very good, as it was just too difficult for me to believe lovely, rich, glamorous Myra Hudson would ever be interested in any way in a goofy idiot looking monkey like Lester Blaine. It's impossible to imagine she would not have had far better prospects than that. And the way he "romances" her on the train is not at all romantic, it's creepy. But the story begins developing very quickly and I found myself pulled into it despite the horrible casting of Jack Palance as Blaine. There are similar believability issues that pop up again throughout the story, for example: even if she accidentally broke the Dictaphone record of Lester and Irene plotting her murder, there is still no reason for her to have taken the matter into her own hands. A woman of Myra's social and financial position would have gotten an immediate and personal police response. Even worse, we are expected to believe Myra is smart enough to have devised the murder/frame-up/revenge plot, which is rather clever, and yet she is so stupid she wrote it out longhand on a piece of her own personalized stationary in her own handwriting! "Step 4: Kill Lester". I mean very really! Not exactly brilliant to leave evidence like that around.
If you watch this film with a group, the illogic of the story is sure to bring lots of laughter the movie's producers never intended, but it is great fun.
Joan Crawford is excellent in the role of Myra Hudson, despite what the writer has her doing, her acting is top notch. And special mention must be made of Gloria Graham, outstanding as Irene, the hoodlum gal who likes to get smacked around. Ms. Graham makes you feel Irene's inherent evil, and makes you at all times aware of her powerful attraction to Lester (by comparison, the unfortunate Jack Palance never makes you believe Lester is intelligent enough to even comprehend a human emotion).
Recommended, particularly for fans of Crawford's and Graham's.