Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1954. Libra Productions Inc.. Screenplay by Richard Sale. Cinematography by Charles G. Clarke. Produced by Robert Bassler. Music by David Raksin. Production Design by Frank Paul Sylos. Costume Design by Jack Masters. Film Editing by John F. Schreyer.
The legend goes that this was the film Lee Harvey Oswald watched just days before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a nifty little thriller about a similar situation that takes place in a small American town. The peaceful hamlet of Suddenly is all abuzz when a special train is scheduled to ramble through at 5pm, one which turns out to be carrying the president of the United States. A widow (Nancy Gates), her father (James Gleason) and small son live on a house on a hill overlooking the station, which becomes a trap when bad gangsters led by Frank Sinatra show up and hold them hostage while setting a big gun up on their window sill. From there begins a cheap version of Key Largo as handsome lug Sterling Hayden tries but fails to be the hero while everyone else nervously tries to avoid getting killed, the screws tightening as they wait for the train to arrive and Sinatra reveals himself to be more disturbed and scarred by his own experiences in World War II. The whole thing is a performance exercise for Sinatra, who gets to talk tough about his past in order to make him an anti-hero, and some moments do pack a punch. Mostly it’s a classic example of the kind of small-town Americana mythmaking that fifties movies were simply terrible for providing, from the squeaky clean grocery store to the ethnic cleanliness of its cast (Sinatra is the biggest star in the picture but he’s not white enough to be the good guy).