[box cover]

Suddenly

When a film virtually disappears from circulation for many years, it's only inevitable that its cachet will rise among movie buffs. And when the cause for the withdrawal is semi-notorious, it can make a dusty reel of celluloid in a vault border on legend. Suddenly (1954) has earned its share of curiosity-value over the past few decades — reportedly, Lee Harvey Oswald saw the film days before the Kennedy assassination, and star Frank Sinatra subsequently withdrew the title from circulation. The film concerns a small family in the town of Suddenly, Calif., where war-widow Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates) is raising her son Pidge (Kim Charney) with the help of her elderly father-in-law Pop (James Gleason). Their small home sits on a hill that overlooks the town's train station, which quickly becomes the locus for a lot of activity on a sun-drenched afternoon when town sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) is informed by the Secret Service that the president is secretly en route to a nearby ranch and will require local assistance. The no-nonsense Shaw immediately begins his preparations, but at the same time three men claiming to be FBI knock on the door of the Benson home, where they soon take the family hostage. Shaw is captured as well when he visits the house, taking a shot in the arm, and before long the trio's leader John Baron (Sinatra) reveals that he and his men have been hired to kill the president, and that the Benson house is the perfect sniper's nest for the job. Directed by Lewis Allen from a script by Richard Sale, Suddenly appears to be a movie of great promise on paper, with a tense, compact premise and two solid stars in Sinatra and Hayden. However, good movies come in much more complex packages, and this independent production simply did not have the time, money, or off-screen talent to make it compete with larger studio productions (The Desperate Hours [1955] starring Humphrey Bogart immediately comes to mind). A TV veteran who directed a few features, director Allen shoots in a flat style, rarely finding compositions that make dynamic use of what's essentially a one-room stage play. And that flat composition hurts — Sinatra and Hayden make engaging opponents, but former sailor Hayden's sheer size (6' 5") makes the menacing Sinatra (5' 8", and perhaps 140 lbs. soaking wet) seem a lot less, er… menacing. A better director would have found a way to conceal the physical dissimilarities for the sake of dramatic suspension. Allen also isn't helped by Sale's script, which establishes the set-up in quick order but then devolves into a talky analysis of why the Korea-veteran Baron is a sociopathic killer, and why he doesn't care that he's a sociopathic killer, and why he doesn't give a holler for patriotism at that. Despite a brief 75 min. running-time, it's easy to wonder just when in the hell everyone is going to stop having a high-school ethics debate and the president's going to walk into the crosshairs, or when burly Hayden simply is going to take away Sinatra's clumsily held pistol and thwack him on the noggin. As a curiosity piece, Suddenly is a valuable look at Frank Sinatra at the start of what would be a promising film career as a serious actor. But as a movie, it's far overshadowed by his other achievements, including From Here to Eternity, The Man with the Golden Arm, and The Manchurian Candidate. Image Entertainment's DVD release of Suddenly features an acceptable transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a recently discovered source-print that looks in very good shape, with excellent low-contrast details and barely any collateral damage. However, the transfer does seem a bit flat, lacking film grain, and with a slight kinescope quality. And the final reel (about 8 min.) is taken from a lesser-quality source. The monaural audio (DD 2.0) is perfectly clear and intelligible, to the point where the looped segments in the film's opening scenes are painfully obvious. No extras, scene-selection. Keep-case.
—JJB



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