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RKO Radio Pictures. 110 minutes.
US release: 8/6/52.
VHS release: 1/30/96. DVD release: 9/2/03.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Myra Hudson"), Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett, Virginia Huston, Touch Connors.
Credits: Based on the 1948 novel by Edna Sherry. Screenplay: Lenore Coffee, Robert Smith. Producer: Joseph Kaufman. (Joan was an uncredited executive producer.) Director: David Miller. Camera: Charles Lang, Jr. Art Director: Boris Leven. Music: Elmer Bernstein. Wardrobe: Sheila O'Brien. Editor: Leon Barsha.
Plot Summary: Joan Crawford stars as wealthy San Francisco heiress Myra Hudson, a successful playwright who meets Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) while casting her new play in New York. They meet again on the train ride back, fall in love and marry. Unknown to Myra, Lester is seeing mistress Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame), whom he still loves and has married only for her money. While looking through her study, Irene and Lester learn that Myra has made a will leaving only $10,000 a year to Lester (though if he remarries following her death he receives nothing). Seeing that the will has not yet taken effect, they plot to kill Myra without noticing that Myra's dictating machine is on and recording their conversation. After listening to the conversation and spending a sleepless night, Myra goes to Irene's apartment and steals a gun. Irene then lures Lester to the apartment, intending to kill him. Losing her nerve, she flees the apartment with Lester chasing her. The film has an exciting and surprising climax as all meet unexpectedly during the chase. Joan Crawford gives a fine, if melodramatic performance, and Jack Palance is amazingly effective playing against type as a leading man. Despite a slow start, this is a fine suspense thriller that earned Oscar nominations for Joan Crawford and Jack Palance and a nomination for Charles B. Lang Jr. for his striking black and white photography. ~ Linda Rasmussen, All Movie Guide
Awards: 1953 Academy Award nominations: Best Actress (Joan); Best Supporting Actor (Palance); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Lang); Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (O'Brien). 1953 Golden Globes nomination: Best Actress (Joan).
Notes: Filmed on location in San Francisco.
A.H. Weller in the New York Times
August 8, 1952
Sudden Fear, Cleverly Turned Melodrama, Is New Bill at Loew's State
Since she is an actress who is sturdy enough to bear the weight of an unsensational yarn, Joan Crawford should be credited with a truly professional performance in "Sudden Fear," which came to Loew's State yesterday. In this romantic suspense story, Miss Crawford, playing a rich, successful playwright, who gives her heart and hand to the wrong actor, does notably well in an exercise which involves practically all the emotions. "Sudden Fear" is a polished vehicle for her talents but its contains nothing that is strikingly surprising.
It is a vehicle which takes quite a spell to get rolling but once it does the acceleration is noticeable and often exciting. An excess of palaver stalls it as the characters of the principals are established. Thereafter, however, the proceedings become more taut as our man is revealed as a satanic gent, who spurred on by a designing girl friend, is planning to kill his play-wright-mate for her wealth. Miss Crawford, of course, accidentally discovers that her marriage and her husband are less than perfect through a conversation caught by a recording machine in her library. And, it is her efforts to avoid sudden death that constitute the meat of this offering.
A viewer not entirely a slave to Miss Crawford's brand of histrionics might argue that an excessive amount of footage is given to close-ups of the lady in the throes of mental traumas and other emotional disturbances. In general, however, she behaves in a convincing manner since, after all, she is involved with a homicidal husband. Jack Palance, as the actor she fires because he is unsuited for her play and then marries, depicts that wily schemer in a suave style. He is a slick operator but, it appears to this observer, hardly the type for whom a worldly-wise heiress-playwright would fall. Gloria Grahame adds an excellent portrayal as the hard, brash and sexy blonde who goads our villain to desperate deeds, and Bruce Bennett, Touch Connors and Virginia Huston are adequate as Miss Crawford's lawyers and secretary, respectively.
The entire production has been mounted in excellent taste and, it must be pointed out, that San Francisco, in which most of the action takes place, is an excitingly photogenic area. David Miller, the director, has taken full advantage of the city's steep streets and panoramic views. And, in his climactic scenes in a darkened apartment and a chase through its precipitous dark alleys and backyards he has managed to project an authentically doom-filled atmosphere. Aside from the moments of genuine fear, shock and mental torture suffered by the harried heroine, "Sudden Fear" is simply a cleverly turned melodrama, but one that is hardly spine-chilling.
Otis L. Guernsey, Jr., in the New York Herald Tribune (1952):
The scenario...is designed to allow Miss Crawford a wide range of quivering reactions to vicious events, as she passes through the stage of starry-eyed love, terrible disillusionment, fear, hatred, and finally hysteria. With her wide eyes and forceful bearing, she is the woman for the job.
Doug Pratt on DVDlaser.com:Crawford, who was nominated for an Oscar, gives an excellent performance in the 1952 film, without a hint of the campiness that usually crept into her roles during that era. Palance and Grahame are also terrific, and the film is a good combination of clever plotting, solid characterization and plain old-fashioned suspense.
Monica Sullivan, Movie Magazine International (1996):
"Sudden Fear" is great film noir, superbly acted by Crawford and co-star Jack Palance, who both received Academy Award nominations, and by Grahame, who won the Oscar that year for another movie. Of course, as with any Crawford flick, you have to accept certain conventions: that a rich and famous playwright wouldn't meet the love of her life until age 48, that she could actually WALK all the way from Scott/Green to Greenwich/Hyde in high heels & a mink coat after falling down a flight of stairs and THEN run up & down the hills of San Francisco with only a glamorously glowing forehead as visible evidence of her ordeal.
If you've seen Sudden Fear and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Sheila Hall (September 2010)
I was not enthusiastic about seeing Sudden Fear. After all, our world has changed a lot in the fifty-eight years since this film was made. We have computer imaging, sound enhancement, unbelievable photography, film schools, arcane methods of film distortion. And probably much more that any of us realize.
I am a great fan of fast action, quick resolution. Car chases are one of my favorites. But, in achieving all of these, one very important characteristic is lost: CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. The camera work in Sudden Fear does much to bring about the sudden fear in Joan Crawford's character Myra Hudson. The wide, relaxed shots of rehearsals in the New York theatre, the comfortable rocking sensation on the train ride to California, the party scenes all are instrumental in relaxing the viewer and enabling him or her to really feel the impact of fear as Myra Hudson finds a recording made of a plot hatching between Lester Blaine (admirably portrayed by ) and Irene (played by Gloria Grahame).
And, while the tempo is slower than we expect today, the result is a terrifying catapult into the denouement -- every bit as terrifying as any Hitchcock film. It is aptly named, beautifully executed, and scary as all get-out!
Michael Lia (February 2010)
Rating: of 5
Ladies and Gentlemen: is now a freelance actress!
It did not mean much to be queen of the Warners lot the last few years. If she had to struggle, why not struggle on her own! With time, place, and circumstance all perfectly aligned, Miss Crawford, with trepidation and a bit of magic, forges ahead and begins her 20-year freelance career. She embraced television along the way and gave herself more challenges. (I think of those lucky people sitting at home in the 50s, and Miss Joan Crawford appears in their living rooms -- just as good as seeing Bette Davis or the Duke. Wow!)
Miss Crawford was defiantly not going to disappear, and with Pepsi-Cola on the horizon, she would soon be everywhere!
This film challenged and elevated Miss Crawford and she elevated the audience! Sudden Fear is a good, crisp, clean thriller and is expertly cast and directed. The opening credits are good, with the musical score from the great Elmer Bernstein -- he takes you right in and gets the heart beating and keeps it beating!
Miss Crawford is generally excellent throughout. She gives us an intense night in the theatre. Her emotions fit the story and script perfectly, and her performance at this point in her career isn’t just showing off but damn good acting. I do not find much fault with this film because I can always count on it, and Miss Crawford provides me with a thrilling evening.
Mr. Kaufman produces with the star in mind and the new way of doing business in Hollywood for a studio gal like Miss Crawford. This was big stuff, and Mr. Kaufman does everyone involved a favor by being a complete professional. Just wish he had more stories for Miss Crawford.
Miss Crawford herself was already behaving like a producer, as she was very concerned about the budget and hired director David Miller, a former film cutter from her MGM days. I think he and the cameraman and the editor captured some fine moments and held some scenes for quite some time and in other parts wasted no time; all which is hard to do -- the cuts are top notch.
A closet, a gun, a car chase, a child's toy, a ticking clock, a key, a bottle of poison, a birthday party , a scarf -- all of these things are characters in the story. Hitchcock would have had fun with this one! Mr. Miller gives the audience some panic-stricken moments of pure terror and suspense, and it all blends well.
Miss Crawford's acting ran a gamut, that is for sure. She is loving, waiting, sweating, running, hiding, thinking, and then there is a beautiful fade-out of Miss Crawford walking up a hill and going home and walking right into the camera. It is actually touching, and something of her spirit comes through with that fade-out. I love it!
Her face is magnificent. Her face upstages herself! It should get co-billing. Miss Crawford holds your interest and the freelance world takes notice. Sudden Fear receives four Oscar nominations. (Miss Crawford receives her third nomination for Best Actress for this film.)
When all the elements are there, or most of them anyway, it is hard to miss. (I think Miss Crawford said that at one point and it is true.)
Supporting Miss Crawford is the fresh Method actor . He is one rough dude, and despite all the rumors over his being cast, I think he made the role his own. He gives it the charm and sleaze that is standard in most bad men, and you believe he could be a killer and a thief and a two-timing no-good louse. The cameraman (an expert) had a hard time photographing Mr. Palance, and in the early scenes he looks a bit different. I saw this film at the Castro theatre in San Francisco and people laughed a little (which they will do at older films), and on the way out I heard a few people talking about how bad Mr. Palance and Miss Crawford looked. I was a bit mortified and I can see it now, but I think the camera work is a bit magical and adds some depth to the film process and the menacing script. Palance earned his Supporting Actor nomination and I was happy to see Miss Crawford’s film get the big Hollywood recognition.
Ladies like Miss Crawford are horrified; ladies like Gloria Graham are intrigued and in love with the rat men. Gloria Graham is some of the best support Miss Crawford was going to get in the remaining decades. She makes her role the essence and epitome of lazy, evil trash-girl on the make, and wanting some cash to retire and live happily ever after! She makes the film wide awake when she walks in the room, and somehow things will not be the same! Miss Graham is wonderful and she won an Oscar for The Bold and the Beautiful, filmed and released the same year, and also starred in The Greatest Show on Earth. However, for me, Sudden Fear remains her best performance and defiantly Oscar-worthy.
The other supporting cast members are strong and consistent: Bruce Bennett from, yes, has a few good moments of acting with his eyes. Virginia Huston of Flamingo Road is the perfect secretary; I bet she had more scenes and they were cut, because she just disappears. I like her persona. Mike Connors (of TV’s Mannix) handles his role with some ease and plays well. It could have been anybody in his part, but it was him and I think his acting is very confident.
Sudden Fear is something Miss Crawford should be proud of. My only sadness is that, besides Baby Jane, she was never going to recapture or surprise us with one more good worthy role and mark her 50th year in show business in 1975 with an Emmy-worthy role or a very rare motion picture role deserving of her talents.
My other reason for loving this film: As a San Franciscan, I love seeing the city in its 50s glory. I know every spot where the actors appear, and every building. It is very nostalgic for me; I even worked in the house on Scott Street (catering), and I just crack up that Jack Palance lives at the bottom of the “crookedest street," which is now a complete tourist venue.
Other than a horrible nightgown that one reviewer wrote about (I totally agree, it is awful), costumer Miss O’Brien remains a question mark for me because of that thing. However, Miss Crawford looked very appealing and glamorous and classy, with the right amount of sex appeal that worked with the script.
Sudden Fear was a great moment in Miss Crawford’s career and our cinema. It is a wonderful film. Go see (rent) it tonight!
John Finley (February 2007)
I had nothing to do yesterday, so I went to the library. I’d never even thought to look at their DVD collection, because I always thought it’d be drab. I was sorely mistaken! Lo and behold, Sudden Fear was there and I just had to check it out! The movie was so wonderful that I watched it twice!
Joan’s acting was superb throughout Sudden Fear, with the exception of two scenes (that I noticed). These two scenes were a little over the top, even for Joan. The first scene was when Myra found out Lester was plotting against her. All of her eye movement and shaking hands were a little bit unreal in a sense that it was a style probably used in the Silent Era, when there was no sound to dictate what the character was feeling. The final over the top scene was the last one, in which Lester mistakes his accomplice for Myra and runs her over. I can understand Myra’s silence, but not for as long as she held it, eventually leading to her long walk back up the hill. My favorite scene was the ubiquitous scene Joan liked. This was the scene in which Myra had to hide in the closet when Lester came into the apartment unexpectedly.
Sudden Fear was put together very well, and of course Joan was well dressed throughout the entire picture, with the exception of that ugly Johnny Guitar-esque nightgown she had on in a couple of scenes. The set designers did a great job putting together everything, including the 1952 Packard Patrician 400 Myra drove around, and the 1952 Packard convertible Lester drove. Back then, those were haughtier to own than a new Cadillac. The cast was also well put together with the exception of Jack Palance. His character in the movie paralleled him in real life. Both actors were great performers, but weren’t just right for the part of Lester Blaine. Palance’s features were just a little too harsh, even for the part of Lester. However, most later Joan Crawford vehicles had B-Movie men, instead of the Gables and Hudsons of that time period. However, it was a great surprise to see Bert Pierce (from Mildred fame) in Sudden Fear.
Sudden Fear was a great movie to watch, and I’d recommend it to any "Noir” aficionado or Joan Crawford fan.
Stephanie Jones (January 2005)
Rating: of 5
Sudden Fear, for all of its "classic noir" reputation, can for me best be described as an homage to Joan Crawford's face. Aside from 1932's Rain and 1946's Humoresque, I can't think of another Crawford film that relies more heavily on Joan's facial expressiveness to propel the picture. Some harsh lighting here often reveals every one of her nearly-50 years, but what her face has lost in dewy youthfulness it has gained in character and its sheer ability to compel.
In Fear, Joan plays Myra Hudson, a San Francisco heiress and playwright who rejects odd-looking actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) as the romantic lead in her latest play, then later, by chance, encounters him on a train and falls in love with him.
The first half-hour of the film is rather pedestrian: Myra and Lester court, then get married, then enjoy a few screen minutes of nuptial bliss. All seems cosy...until smirking sexpot Irene (Gloria Grahame) shows up. Irene and Lester were once hot-n-heavy lovers as well as partners in petty crime back East; they quickly resume their affair and then begin to plot to get their greedy hands on Myra's money. Myra remains blissfully unaware of their trysts and eeevil plans...until she's in her study and discovers that her dictation machine was accidentally left on overnight. Myra hears a recording of Lester and Irene expressing their eagerness both for each other and for the idea of offing Myra in the next 3 days---before her proposed will changes go into effect.
At this point the film really kicks in, both plot- and acting-wise, and from here on, the camera begins intensely lavishing its attention on every nuance of Myra's reactions to the betrayal she's discovered.
The scene where Myra first listens to the recording and discovers Lester's perfidy is both fascinating and painful to watch because we're given no respite from the emotions that Myra's experiencing. Whole minutes go by in silence as we see Myra, often in close-up, reacting first in disbelief, then confusion, then sadness, then literal nausea, as she finally runs to the bathroom to throw up. The pure acting ability, and acting bravery, required to pull off such an uncomfortable scene is enormous, and I've never seen anything quite like it. Ever. Even in silent films, where similarly claustrophobic camera attention was necessarily paid to the actors' every expression.
Joan's acting skills are also evident in an earlier scene, when Lester hasn't shown up for a party in his honor and Myra goes to his apartment to find him---her awkwardly smiling look of utter love and submission and fear of rejection as she climbs the stairs and says to him "Without you I have nothing" is intimately and painfully nuanced.
Similarly interesting acting-wise is a scene between Myra and Lester after she has discovered his plot and has lain awake all night planning her inventive revenge. (She is, after all, a playwright, and wouldn't be content to merely call the police and have Lester escorted from her home!) In this scene, Myra accidentally awakens Lester; in their mutual surprise, neither intially has time to put on a "game face." Watching the two skilled actors maneuver through the duplicitous, lovingly inane "good morning" conversation is fascinating, culminating with Lester's "Aren't you going to kiss me?" Myra complies, her still-existing feelings for her husband battling with her repulsion for what she now knows about him. "I was just wondering what I'd done to deserve you, " she smiles and purrs. Then, as she turns and walks toward the camera, away from Lester's view, her smile fades oh-so-briefly into regret for what she's lost, then slowly transforms into grim disgust and equally grim determination to exact her revenge. It's a classic moment in the Crawford Canon, as well as a classic moment in film.
Joan was nominated for her third, and final, Oscar for Sudden Fear, and it's a well-deserved acknowledgment of her acting talents. Fear has often been cited for its stylish noir qualities, and indeed there are plenty of shadows as well as much angst-ridden psychological plot tension. What makes the film ultimately so memorable, though, is not necessarily the plot (which can occasionally seem implausible) nor the camera tricks (which, especially in the fantasy sequence, can seem dated today), but rather director David Miller's utter trust in the ability of Joan Crawford's face and acting to carry the show.
Title song sung by Steve Lawrence. Written by Irving Taylor and Arthur Altman. 1952, Fredbee Music Corp.
The Best of Everything