Sudden Fear (1952)

DAVID MILLER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5

USA, 1952. . Screenplay by , , based on the story by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by , . Film Editing by . Academy Awards 1952. Golden Globe Awards 1952.

Joan Crawford started out in silent films, developing a skill for delivering complex emotions on her face before then transitioning into talkies with that studied, careful manner of speaking that always made her seem so regal.  Both are put to great use in this delicious thriller, in which she plays a highly successful playwright whose triumphs in New York are numerous, their royalties unnecessary because she also is the heir to her late father’s fortune.  After firing Jack Palance from her play because she doesn’t consider him handsome enough to play a romantic lead, she runs into him on the train home after the show’s successful closing.  Befriending him on the long journey to the west coast, they end up starting an affair that soon leads to true love and marriage.  All seems perfectly blissful until one day, through an ingeniously devised scene involving a Dictaphone, she overhears him and party guest Gloria Grahame talking, and finds out that he has been leading her on and has very different ideas of happily ever after than she had in mind.  Getting the jump on the man who is now her mortal enemy, Crawford starts making plans for how to thwart him and puts her scheme into action, allowing the audience to juicily enjoy watching things go right and then indulge in the thrills of when things start to go wrong.  The dialogue becomes sparse halfway through the movie, at the point that Crawford’s character has the wool removed from her eyes, and the emphasis on her extreme facial expressions makes this one of her most enjoyable and exciting performances.  Palance matches her with his intensity as he effortlessly maneuvers his way around his character’s charm, while also providing a layer of desperation underneath.

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