Sudden Fear With Joan Crawford

Sudden Fear With Joan Crawford
Released in 1952, Sudden Fear was marketed as a “Suspense Melodrama,” promising an evening of terror for all who dare watch.

Regardless of how the film was sold to the public, Sudden Fear lacks many of the elements required for true suspense. A lot more “knowns” are revealed than “unknowns.” In fact, the first half of the film is spent politely acquainting the audience with the characters – interesting to be sure – but hardly terrifying.

Still, the film is worth watching at least once, and this can be credited to the last half of the film which offers more of the frightening uncertainty expected from a thriller.

There is often a “gotcha” moment in suspense films, a moment when something occurs and the audience is completely hooked. Sudden Fear has such a “gotcha” moment, it merely takes some time to arrive. Once it does, look out.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it centers around Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford), an heiress-turned-playwright who splits her time between Broadway and her palatial townhome in San Francisco. Myra is a talented workaholic, as evidenced by the massive success of all of her plays.

She writes about love, but has never been in love.

A chance meeting with struggling actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) changes all of that. The two engage in a whirlwind romance resulting in wedding bells. All is well with the happy couple until Lester’s scheming ex-girlfriend, Irene (Gloria Grahame), slinks back into his life, and the two conspire to bump off Myra for her vast wealth.

It is when Myra accidently uncovers their plan that the film’s established trajectory changes. The predictable now becomes unpredictable. Myra transforms from heartbroken heiress to calculating combatant. There is one moment when her expression – shot in closeup – morphs from frightened victim to frightening predator. This is the moment when the audience finally has something in which to invest.

As less facts are presented, more fear and speculation is fed.

If only a little more of that sinister ambiguity was present earlier, the studio’s publicity warnings of a night filled with terror might have rung true.

Given its shortcomings, Sudden Fear is still – for the most part – entertaining to watch. There are certainly some truly suspenseful moments, and there is also a chase scene where a fearful Myra runs through San Francisco’s steeply inclined, rain dampened, cobblestone streets, while wearing three-inch, peep toe heels. In the dark.

And as anyone who has worn such shoes will tell you, that is terrifying in and of itself.

*NOTE: I watched this film at my own expense. The the run time was just under two hours.

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