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Sudden Fear

Sudden Fear
Some interesting directorial touches and a larger than life performance from Joan Crawford make the taut 1952 melodrama Sudden Fear worth checking out.

Crawford plays Myra Hudson, a wealthy playwright who keeps an actor named Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) from getting the lead in her latest play because she doesn't think he's pretty enough to be a leading man. A few weeks later, they meet on a train from New York to San Francisco, which is the springboard for a whirlwind romance between the two which climaxes with their marriage. Myra is blissfully happy until she learns that Lester and his former girlfriend (Gloria Grahame) are planning to murder her for her money.

Director David Miller deserves the lion's share of the credit for what works in this film. Miller creates a very noir-ish atmosphere throughout this story particularly in the way the film is photographed...so much of the story is shot in shadows that initially frustrate because we think we're missing a lot, but we're really not, the shadowy photography brings an added layer of tension to the story that just makes us want to pay attention so that we don't miss anything.

The film is a little longer than it needs to be and I must confess to a moment or two that, for me, produced unintentional giggles...I loved the scene where Myra learns what her husband and his mistress are planning, but the fantasy sequence that immediately follows where Myra starts imagining how her husband might be planning to murder her just made me laugh and I don't think it was supposed to. The film spends a little too much time on close-ups of Crawford standing in shadows, sweating, and lips quivering that I think were intended to build suspense but often just try viewer patience. And I don't know if this was intentional, but every time a phone rang in the movie, the sound of the phone ringing was nothing short of deafening.

Don't get me wrong...Crawford makes this worth watching with a flamboyant performance that earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Palance's chilling turn earned him a Supporting Actor nomination as well, even though the role is clearly a lead. My guess is TPTB behind the movie thought he had a better chance of winning in the supporting category and I LOVED Gloria Grahame as his conniving girlfriend. The film also features a young actor named Touch Connors, who would later change his name to Mike Connors and find fame on TV in the 60's as Mannix. The bloom has worn off this one a bit, but Crawford still makes it worth checking out.