Sudden Fear

April 30, 2009 at 8:57 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , )


 

Myra Hudson, played by Joan Crawford, is a successful playwright who also happens to have inherited a vast family fortune. Sudden Fear opens with her terminating Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) as the leading man in her latest play. He is upset initially, but seems well-adjusted to the fact when he later meets her on a train to San Francisco. 

There is perhaps no more sudden transformation of a character from charming to sinister as Lester Blaine in Sudden Fear. It is a noir film so we all know that something is going to happen, but there are no early clues to tell you that the charm of Lester is going to turn into evil. Palance reciting some lines of Myra Hudson’s writing is a little much for the stomach to handle, but all in all his performance is pretty good and charming with no hint of malice or deception sneaking into his character in the early going. No smiles that go away when Crawford turns away, no slip ups at all to tip off the viewer. After a while, you really begin to believe that Blaine wants nothing to do with Hudson’s money. That is suddenly when things change. 

In one subtle scene, you realize just how well thought out Blaine’s plot is when he doesn’t show for a party she is giving in his honor. He knows she will come after him, so he waits in his room with his bags packed until he hears her drive up. Quickly grabbing his bags and throwing on his coat and hat to make it look as if he is leaving for good, he meets her on the steps. He then gives her a few probably well-rehearsed lines. “I have no place in your life Myra. No proper place…You have so much. I have nothing.” 

At this point you are still not sure that Lester is all bad until the entrance of one of the greatest film noir faces ever, Gloria Grahame as Irene Neves. This is where you get that moment that only happens in the movies when Grahame and Palance are introduced and you can tell from his reaction that there is a past. This is when the movie finally kicks into gear. It is a pretty slow go up to this point. 

Blaine doesn’t know that Neves has made her way to San Francisco and is now attached to the arm of Myra Hudson’s lawyer. The viewer quickly realizes there is a steamy past between Lester and Irene. Irene and Lester eventually concoct a plan to kill Myra so they can get a hold of her vast fortune before she gives it all away to charity. 

Gloria Grahame is a sexy as she has ever been, with the exception of In a Lonely Place, and Joan Crawford can still pull off any role at this point and looks good doing it. Palance is good but overmatched by Grahame and Crawford. Bruce Bennett is also in this movie, playing one of Myra’s lawyers and, as always, is solid in his performance. 

One little nugget of note: most everyone is aware of Joan Crawford’s erratic personality and her numerous clashes on the sets of her movies. There was a supposed physical altercation between Gloria Grahame and Crawford on the set, as they did not get along, and Jack Palance is reported to have said that the guys on the set watched it go on for a little while out of amusement and curiosity before breaking it up. 

All in all, Sudden Fear is a pretty good film noir and definitely worth the watch. It certainly has its moments. Myra in the closet as Lester walks around Irene’s apartment is as tense a moment as you will see in any film. The little dog and the ringing phone make you almost jump out of your skin. Director David Miller has a mostly even hand throughout the film, but his best moments are at the end, in Irene’s apartment and the chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco. 

In true noir fashion, the line between good and evil are blurred and there is plenty of sympathy for characters that are planning murder.  

Spoiler

 It was well foreshadowed, possibly too well, in the beginning that the recording equipment in Myra’s study would be the downfall of someone. However, it is still an interesting little plot device and works pretty well. This allows for one of the more unique plot twists in all of film noir, as it precipitates one of the few, if only, moments in which the rich spouse fights back with a sinister plot of their own. At first you think Crawford’s character is simply going to fold up the tent and divorce Blaine, but she has something else in mind entirely. Blaine should have known better than to mess with Crawford. While she didn’t invent crazy, she certainly came up with her own unique brand.

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