The Film (5/5)
Highly successful Broadway Playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford), has just finished another soon to be a hit play and is watching the dress rehearsal. One element seems wrong, the lead actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) isn’t a traditionally handsome man and Myra suggests that he is wrong for the part and needs to be replaced. Lester doesn’t take this lightly and storms out. Feeling guilty, Myra seems haunted by breaking the actor down.
The play does turn out to be another smash hit. Myra is ready to start her next play, so she takes a train back to her native San Francisco. On the train, she notices Lester is boarding, so she decides to try to apologize to him. Instead the two hit it off and Lester seems to win over Myra’s heart. When the couple arrive in town, Lester convinces Myra to marry him. Everything sounds fine and it looks like a picture perfect happy ending. But things become more sinister when Lester’s ex-girlfriend Irene (Gloria Grahame) arrives in town and hatch a plot to murder the rich playwright.
SUDDEN FEAR (1952) is one of the iconic film noirs and one of the best showcases for Joan Crawford. I’m going to be a little biased and say this is my favorite Crawford movie. But it’s not without good reason. Joan Crawford is an interesting actress who is best remembered now for her underdog image. A woman who came from nothing and became Hollywood royalty. She is also remembered for being one of the first actresses striped down with a highly popular book based on her outrageous and sometimes disturbing home life with “Mommie Dearest”. Which in turn was turned into the accidental 1980 Camp classic of the same name. So, looking back it’s hard to see how brilliant she could be.
SUDDEN FEAR gives Crawford so much to do with her character. She’s sexy, strong, cartoonish, terrified, and clever. The image of her in her bulky fur coat and scarf holding a gun is one of the big Noir stills, so it’s great to see that this image is backed up by an even better performance. This isn’t to say that SUDDEN FEAR is all Crawford. Jack Palance (SHANE, Dan Curtis’ DRACULA) turns in one of his finest early roles as the charming and menacing Lester. Gloria Grahame (Fritz Lang’s THE BIG HEAT) is one the most important femme fatales of Noir, and here she doesn’t disappoint as the mousey but dangerous girlfriend, who is the real mastermind behind the murder plot.
As a piece of filmmaking SUDDEN FEAR is a visual treat for the eyes. Director David Miller (MIDNIGHT LACE with Doris Day) and cinematographer Charles Lang crafted one of the most visually interesting of all the film noirs. There’s a Hitchcock level of craftsmanship to every scene, where the slow burn to the thrilling last 30 minutes boiling over. The daydream scenarios of Crawford’s death, the wind-up puppy toy, the long foot chase down moonlight bathed streets, and the super imposed telling of events to come are some of the best moments Film Noir can deliver. Simply put a masterpiece.
This new release from Cohen sports a New 2K Restoration of SUDDEN FEAR, and the results are breathtaking. The English LPCM 2.0 Chanel sound mix is out of this world in sharpness and clean audio. No hisses or crackles. The movie sounds like it was filmed today and doesn’t have any sudden drops in volume like some of the other 1950 movies. The score by Elmer Bernstein sounds like it was recorded fresh with its rich sounds. Dialogue and the folly sound effects are also splendid. Easy to read English subtitles are included.
The 1080p HD transfer is sharp with some fantastic black levels and hard focused picture. This is how Film noir is meant to be seen. The night time scenes especially are a joy to look at. One highlight is the striking shots of Jack Palance speeding through town with his blinding high beams on. Every scene is full of life and with this transfer you can see layer among layer of detail, like cracks on rocks, the rays of light underneath a door, or the small piece of metal that traps the dog toy.
The main extra is an excellent audio commentary with film historian Jeremy Arnold. Arnold covers every topic imaginable with the film’s production and cast. The track is highly entertaining and it’s worth a second listen just to catch up with the information overload. The re-release trailer is included, as well as a booklet of production stills and cast info.
SUDDEN FEAR is one of the best Film Noirs ever made. It’s one of the best wife vs husband dramas, and a showcase for three fantastic actors. Cohen gives the film one of their most handsome releases yet. For Noir fans this is an essential purchase. Highly Recommended!