Tuesday, 15 April 2014

"Sudden Fear"

Today's film is the 1952 feature "Sudden Fear."  It's directed by David Miller, written by Lenore J. Coffee and Robert Smith (based on the novel by Edna Sherry), and stars Joan Crawford and Jack Palance.  Once again, I've never heard of any of the cast excepting Joan Crawford, which is a state of affairs that will probably continue as we journey into more of these lesser known noirs.

The film's plot is relatively straightforward, and it's kind of hard to describe without spoiling it a bit, so be warned.  Wealthy playwright Myra Hudson (wealthy because she is both a heiress and a successful playwright) meets somewhat handsome actor Lester Blaine.  She falls for him, but soon discovers that he plans to murder her for her money.  Her will will freeze Blaine out after the weekend, so Hudson must survive increasingly desperate murder attempts as the clock ticks.

Sound familiar?  Well, I'm sure variations of this plot have been done time and time again, and there would be no shortage of such films afterwards.  The one which jumps immediately to my mind is Hitchcock's "Suspicion", which builds to this sort of plot only to subvert it in the end.

The first act of the film, then, plays like a straightforward love story, and works because of the chemistry betwen Crawford, who plays a civilized yet passionate woman, and Palance, whose character is suave, but not overly so.  He seems really genuine, and these elements make the reveal very effective in terms of shaking up the structured story.
The most effective part of the film, in my opinion, is the second act, where Hudson learns of her husband's sinister intentions. She tries to keep herself alive while trying not to let on that she has learned of Lester's plot, leading to some tense moments.  Both characters, in this scene, are acting, fitting because one is actually an actor and the other a playwright.  I don't think I'm going too far when I see this as a commentary on the sort of fake, soulless situation that marriage can turn into, even when both partners aren't scheming to murder each other.

The film has some interesting production choices that help to distinguish it from its brethren. I'm sure the editing used during the dramatic dream sequence, for example, was cutting edge at the time.  And the lighting choices made during the final act sometimes blur out everything but Joan's terrified eyes as she struggles to stay alive.
So would I recommend this movie?  I'd say so.  Again, I'm pretty sure it's not the most original of plots.  But I really do think that some of the choices made make the film work (such as the beginning, for example, though I'm a sucker for the whole play/film within a film concept).  And one should definitely appreciate how well Crawford and Palance know their characters; the film is definitely richer and more believable for it.
Best line: "Dames," muttered dismissively by some extra.

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