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Sudden Fear

Sudden Fear(1952)

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teaser Sudden Fear (1952)

"Heartbreak...poised on a trigger of terror!" and "I was made to live for him...to die for him!...But now I could kill him!" were some of the taglines for the Joan Crawford film Sudden Fear (1952), billed as "a new high in suspense melodrama!"

Crawford had just asked to be let out of her Warner Bros. contract when she went to RKO Radio Pictures to make Sudden Fear for Joseph Kaufmann Productions. Like many of her contemporaries, her career had hit a slump in the early 50s and she needed a hit. She found it in the melodrama of David Miller's film. Lenore J. Coffee and Robert Smith's screenplay, based on the novel by Edna Sherry, has Broadway playwright Myra Hudson (Crawford) marrying actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), after a whirlwind romance, but when Lester learns that the wealthy Myra is rewriting her will in order to leave her money to a foundation, he plans to murder her with his old girlfriend, Irene (Gloria Grahame). Myra finds out about the murder plot and must plot a murder of her own. Also in the cast were Bruce Bennett, Virginia Huston, and future television star Mike Connors.

Jack Palance was not the first choice for the role of the unfaithful and murderous husband; Crawford's old friend and lover, Clark Gable, was approached to play the part, but refused because he didn't think it was right for him. Director David Miller agreed, believing that the actor who played Lester needed to have the right amount of menace. To get Crawford on his side, he went to her home for dinner with a print of the 20th Century-Fox film Panic in the Streets (1950), which he played over and over again for the next two weeks, asking her to study the construction of the film. Crawford thought that it was the film's star, Richard Widmark, that Miller was trying to sell, but it was Palance. He got the part.

When the film was released in August 1952, the critics were impressed with Crawford's acting, if not the film itself. The New York Times film critic "A.W." wrote, "Since she is an actress who is sturdy enough to bear the weight of an unsensational yarn, Joan Crawford should be credited with a truly professional performance [...] Sudden Fear is a polished vehicle for her talents but it contains nothing that is strikingly surprising. A viewer not entirely a slave to Miss Crawford's brand of histrionics might argue that an excessive amount of footage is given to close-ups of the lady in the throes of mental traumas and other emotional disturbances. In general, however, she behaves in a convincing manner since, after all, she is involved with a homicidal husband." Kaspar Monahan, writing for The Pittsburgh Press proclaimed that "Joan Crawford has an acting field day, [...] demonstrating her mastery of emotional fireworks in a manner reminiscent of her Oscar-winning performance in Mildred Pierce."

Sudden Fear didn't win Crawford an Academy Award, but she did come close. When the nominations were announced, Crawford was up for Best Actress, losing to Shirley Booth in Come Back Little Sheeba (1952). She did win a Golden Laurel award for Best Dramatic Performance, and earned a Golden Globe nomination for her work in this film. Jack Palance was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, and although he lost, Palance would later credit this film for making him a star.

SOURCES:

The Internet Movie Database
Monahan, Kaspar "Thriller Opens at Stanley" The Pittsburgh Press 25 Aug 52.
Nehme, Farran Smith, "Sudden Fear" Film Comment 11 Aug 16
Quirk, Lawrence and Shoell, William Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography
A.W. "Sudden Fear, Cleverly Turned Melodrama, Is New Bill at Loew's State" The New York Times 8 Aug 52

By Lorraine LoBianco

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