Suddenly (1954)

“There’s cruelty and hatred and tyranny in the world. You can’t make believe they aren’t there.”

Synopsis:
A widowed mother (Nancy Gates) and her young son (Kim Charney) become trapped in their house along with Gates’ father-in-law (James Gleason), the local sheriff (Sterling Hayden), and a television repairman (James O’Hara) when a crazed assassin (Frank Sinatra) and his henchmen (Paul Frees and Christopher Dark) invade their home during a presidential motorcade.

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Review:
Frank Sinatra’s first role after his Academy Award-winning performance in From Here to Eternity (1953) was this effectively chilling portrayal of a sociopathic veteran hired to kill the president. According to TCM’s article, when Sinatra heard Lee Harvey Oswald watched this movie the day before shooting Kennedy, he requested that it — and The Manchurian Candidate (1962), also about an attempted presidential assassination — be taken out of circulation. Interestingly, Suddenly — the eponymous title refers to the sleepy little town where all this action “suddenly” takes place — is a pro-gun movie, starting with young Charney’s frustration that he isn’t allowed to have one, and culminating in a situation where having guns lying around the house is very much a life-saving choice for this group of unwitting hostages (then again, when are hostages ever not unwitting?). Overall, this tense story is told in a compact and highly effective style, showing a small American town disrupted by pure malevolence, but saved by collective ingenuity and bravery.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Frank Sinatra as John Baron
  • Nancy Gates as Ellen
  • A tense screenplay, well-directed by Lewis Allen

Must See?
Yes, as a fine and well-told thriller. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Suddenly (1954)”

  1. SPOILER AHEAD…

    First viewing. A hesitant once-must, for its notorious reputation.

    While I’ll agree that the film holds a fair amount of tension in its better sections (and a surprisingly effective performance by Sinatra), it also has some clunky elements – which viewers may forgive, considering what does make the film work overall.

    The script seems way too talky (occasionally falling into dialogue that doesn’t seem all that natural). You would think that the screenwriter might have found a more economic way to keep the tension higher by being sharper with the dialogue.

    That said… the film manages some turns of genuine surprise. I have to take issue, however, with how the conclusion is handled: Why was a stopover in a small town even considered as an option when the train could just as easily (as it turns out) make use of Los Angeles?

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