Suddenly


1h 17m 1954
Suddenly

Brief Synopsis

Gunmen take over a suburban home to plot a presidential assassination.

Film Details

Genre
Crime
Thriller
Film Noir
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Sep 1954
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Libra Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Saugus, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "Active Duty" by Richard Sale in Blue Book (May 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 17m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.75 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Synopsis

Tod Shaw, the sheriff of the small California town of Suddenly, is courting Ellen Benson, a widow whose husband was killed in the Korean War. Ellen and her eight-year-old son Pidge live with her father-in-law, Pop Benson, a retired Secret Service agent. Ellen, who has become embittered by her husband's death in battle, is overprotective of Pidge and will not allow him to see war movies or own toy guns. One Saturday morning, Ellen is dismayed to discover that Tod has bought her son a toy cap pistol, prompting her to break up with him. Later, Tod learns that a special train carrying the U.S. President will be arriving at the town's railroad station late that afternoon. The president will de-train, then travel by car to a nearby ranch for a fishing vacation. Tod is instructed to coordinate the local security procedures and, after requesting assistance from the state police, meets with members of the advance secret service team, led by agent Dan Carney. Carney assigns his men to inspect and secure all the buildings overlooking the station, including the Benson house. Carney is delighted to learn that his former boss Pop lives in Suddenly. At that moment, Pop is trying to fix a temperamental television set, but the set explodes and Ellen has to phone the local repairman to come to fix it. Soon after, John Baron, Benny Conklin and Bart Wheeler, hired killers posing as FBI agents, arrive and ask to inspect the house. Pop proudly informs them that he was President Coolidge's bodyguard, then inquires about why Baron and his men are there. After Baron orders that no one leave the house, he tells Pop about the president's arrival. At the station, Carney reveals to Tod that security will be very tight because an informant told authorities about a presidential assassination plot. After Pop questions the FBI's involvement in the president's security, Baron tells him that they have been called in because of information about a potential assassination attempt. When Tod brings Carney to the house to see Pop, Baron shoots and kills Carney and Conklin seriously wounds Tod in the arm. Baron then threatens to harm Pidge unless they follow his instructions. After the killers set up a heavy recoil rifle on a metal table at a window overlooking the depot, they hide Tod's patrol car in the garage. Later, Baron states that they are hired assassins and boasts that during the war he won a Silver Star for killing twenty-seven Germans. Tod assumes they will be killed when the men leave and quietly asks Pop if he has a gun in the house. After Baron sends Conklin to check on the situation in town, Jud Kelly, the television repairman, arrives and Baron takes him prisoner. While they wait, Baron admits to Tod that he has no idea who is paying him the half-million dollars to kill the president. In town, after Conklin fails to respond correctly to a deputy sheriff's questions, Conklin draws his gun and shoots the deputy, who returns fire. Although state troopers have been instructed to take Conklin alive, Conklin is killed in a shootout. At the house, Baron orders everyone into the cellar. When one of the Secret Service agents comes looking for Carney, Baron tells Ellen that unless she can convince the agent that Carney, Tod, Pop and Pidge have gone to the ranch, he will kill them all. Satisfied by Ellen's explanation, the agent leaves. After emerging from the cellar, Tod taunts Baron about his war experience and suggests that he was court-martialed as a psychopath. Meanwhile, Pop secretly suggests to Jud that he clamp a high voltage lead from the television set to the metal table. Pop then fakes a minor heart attack and sends Pidge to get pills from the drawer in which he has hidden his gun. Pidge switches his toy gun for the real one. A few minutes later, after Pop has spilled a glass of water on the floor near the table, Wheeler steps in the water, then touches the rifle and is promptly electrocuted. His death throe spasms cause the rifle to fire several rounds. After police at the depot return fire, Baron cuts the electricity and shoots Jud, then slugs Pop. Pidge shoots at Baron, but misses. As the train approaches the depot, Baron takes aim with the rifle but is astonished when the train, having been signaled not to stop, goes straight through. Ellen, forced to reconsider her feelings about killing, picks up Pop's gun and shoots Baron. Tod then shoots, ending the killer's life. Later, as Pop recovers, Tod emerges from the hospital and tells Ellen that although Jud died, his deputy will live. Ellen then asks Tod if they can resume their courtship.

Film Details

Genre
Crime
Thriller
Film Noir
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Sep 1954
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Libra Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Saugus, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "Active Duty" by Richard Sale in Blue Book (May 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 17m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.75 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Articles

Suddenly - Suddenly


President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 shocked and stunned the nation but for one Hollywood superstar it had even more disturbing repercussions. Frank Sinatra, a loyal supporter and friend of Kennedy, had once played a potential presidential assassin in the suspense thriller, Suddenly (1954). When he heard that Lee Harvey Oswald had watched that film on the evening before he shot and killed the President, he demanded that the film be withdrawn from distribution.

Made nine years earlier, Suddenly is the story of a trio of assassins led by John Baron (Sinatra) who arrive in the sleepy California town of Suddenly with a sinister purpose: to assassinate the President when his train travels through the rural depot. But first the gunmen have to find the best vantage point and, posing as FBI agents, gain entrance to a hilltop house and take everyone hostage. The similarities between Baron and Oswald are striking: both are hostile loners with a warped ideology and both plotted their murders with a rifle from an open window. But the connection between Sinatra and presidential assassins didn't end there.

In 1962, Sinatra appeared in The Manchurian Candidate, directed by John Frankenheimer (also a close friend of the Kennedys). Once again the plot involved an elaborate plan to kill the President, leaving his vice-president (and Communist Party stooge) to take his orders directly from his operatives. But this time around, Sinatra played the hero, racing against time to stop his former army comrade (Laurence Harvey) and now a brainwashed victim of the enemy, from carrying out his orders. Sinatra also had this film withdrawn from distribution as well after Kennedy's assassination making both The Manchurian Candidate and Suddenly difficult films to see for many years.

Suddenly was based on an original screenplay by Richard Sale who got the idea from news stories about President Eisenhower's train trips to and from Palm Springs. Sinatra made Suddenly right after his Oscar®-winning performance in From Here to Eternity (1953) and it marked the first time he played the "heavy" in a film, though weighing less than 120 pounds, that label hardly sounds apt. Nevertheless, his performance as a cold-blooded, psychopathic killer is still considered one of his best. Newsweek wrote: "As the assassin in the piece, Sinatra superbly refutes the idea that the straight-role potentialities which earned an Academy Award for him in From Here to Eternity were one-shot stuff. In Suddenly, the happy-go-lucky soldier of Eternity becomes one of the most repellent killers in American screen history."

Once considered little more than a tautly directed B-movie, Suddenly has since come into its own as a highly regarded example of the film noir style. In his essay on Suddenly for the movie reference book, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, Carl Macek wrote, "The sense of claustrophobia and despair unleashed by the assassins in Suddenly is completely amoral, and totally opposite of the style of harassment found in such non-noir, socially redemptive films as The Desperate Hours [1955]....There are no reasons given, or asked for, regarding the assassination - the entire incident functions as a nightmare, a very real nightmare that invades the serenity of a small town. At the end of the film it is apparent that the Benson family will never be the same, suddenly scarred by people out of nowhere who irrevocably disrupt their middle-class tranquility."

Producer: Robert Bassler
Director: Lewis Allen
Screenplay: Richard Sale
Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke
Film Editing: John F. Schreyer
Art Direction: Frank Sylos
Music: David Raksin
Cast: Frank Sinatra (John Baron), Sterling Hayden (Sheriff Tod Shaw), James Gleason (Pop Benson), Nancy Gates (Ellen Benson ), Kim Charney (Peter Benson), Paul Frees (Benny Conklin).
BW-76m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford
Suddenly  - Suddenly

Suddenly - Suddenly

President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 shocked and stunned the nation but for one Hollywood superstar it had even more disturbing repercussions. Frank Sinatra, a loyal supporter and friend of Kennedy, had once played a potential presidential assassin in the suspense thriller, Suddenly (1954). When he heard that Lee Harvey Oswald had watched that film on the evening before he shot and killed the President, he demanded that the film be withdrawn from distribution. Made nine years earlier, Suddenly is the story of a trio of assassins led by John Baron (Sinatra) who arrive in the sleepy California town of Suddenly with a sinister purpose: to assassinate the President when his train travels through the rural depot. But first the gunmen have to find the best vantage point and, posing as FBI agents, gain entrance to a hilltop house and take everyone hostage. The similarities between Baron and Oswald are striking: both are hostile loners with a warped ideology and both plotted their murders with a rifle from an open window. But the connection between Sinatra and presidential assassins didn't end there. In 1962, Sinatra appeared in The Manchurian Candidate, directed by John Frankenheimer (also a close friend of the Kennedys). Once again the plot involved an elaborate plan to kill the President, leaving his vice-president (and Communist Party stooge) to take his orders directly from his operatives. But this time around, Sinatra played the hero, racing against time to stop his former army comrade (Laurence Harvey) and now a brainwashed victim of the enemy, from carrying out his orders. Sinatra also had this film withdrawn from distribution as well after Kennedy's assassination making both The Manchurian Candidate and Suddenly difficult films to see for many years. Suddenly was based on an original screenplay by Richard Sale who got the idea from news stories about President Eisenhower's train trips to and from Palm Springs. Sinatra made Suddenly right after his Oscar®-winning performance in From Here to Eternity (1953) and it marked the first time he played the "heavy" in a film, though weighing less than 120 pounds, that label hardly sounds apt. Nevertheless, his performance as a cold-blooded, psychopathic killer is still considered one of his best. Newsweek wrote: "As the assassin in the piece, Sinatra superbly refutes the idea that the straight-role potentialities which earned an Academy Award for him in From Here to Eternity were one-shot stuff. In Suddenly, the happy-go-lucky soldier of Eternity becomes one of the most repellent killers in American screen history." Once considered little more than a tautly directed B-movie, Suddenly has since come into its own as a highly regarded example of the film noir style. In his essay on Suddenly for the movie reference book, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, Carl Macek wrote, "The sense of claustrophobia and despair unleashed by the assassins in Suddenly is completely amoral, and totally opposite of the style of harassment found in such non-noir, socially redemptive films as The Desperate Hours [1955]....There are no reasons given, or asked for, regarding the assassination - the entire incident functions as a nightmare, a very real nightmare that invades the serenity of a small town. At the end of the film it is apparent that the Benson family will never be the same, suddenly scarred by people out of nowhere who irrevocably disrupt their middle-class tranquility." Producer: Robert Bassler Director: Lewis Allen Screenplay: Richard Sale Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke Film Editing: John F. Schreyer Art Direction: Frank Sylos Music: David Raksin Cast: Frank Sinatra (John Baron), Sterling Hayden (Sheriff Tod Shaw), James Gleason (Pop Benson), Nancy Gates (Ellen Benson ), Kim Charney (Peter Benson), Paul Frees (Benny Conklin). BW-76m. Letterboxed. by Jeff Stafford

Frank Sinatra in Suddenly on DVD


After winning the Best Supporting Oscar® for From Here to Eternity in 1953, Frank Sinatra was suddenly in a position to pick and choose more challenging dramatic roles. So what did he pick for an encore? The unlikely role of John Baron, a crazed would-be assassin who descends on the sleepy California town of Suddenly with two cohorts in tow, determined to kill the President of the United States. The trio invade the home of Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) and terrorize his family while waiting for the President to arrive in town by train where he will disembark for a fishing trip.

Suddenly (1954) - now on DVD from Hal Roach Studios (distributed by Image Entertainment) - is based on a novel by Richard Sale who knew that President Eisenhower liked to travel by train to and from Palm Springs and developed a paranoid fantasy based on that information. While Sinatra's character was totally fictitious, his attempt on the President's life with a rifle from a strategic window location would be duplicated successfully nine years later by Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused killer of President John F. Kennedy. When Sinatra was later told that Oswald had watched Suddenly a few days before committing the murder, he demanded that the film be withdrawn from distribution along with John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962), another assassination thriller in which Sinatra also starred. As a result, both films were difficult to see for many years.

Most critics were favorably impressed by Sinatra's performance in Suddenly and the following Newsweek review excerpt was indicative of the general reaction: "As the assassin in the piece, Sinatra superbly refutes the idea that the straight-role potentialities which earned an Academy Award for him in From Here to Eternity were one-shot stuff. In Suddenly, the happy-go-lucky soldier of Eternity becomes one of the most repellent killers in American screen history. Sneeringly arrogant in the beginning, brokenly whimpering at the finish, Sinatra will astonish viewers who flatly resent bobby-soxers' idols." Certainly, Sinatra would take on other dramatic roles in the years to come like The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) and The Joker is Wild (1957), but his performance in Suddenly remains one of his best performances.

The Hal Roach Studios DVD release of Suddenly is a definite improvement, in terms of visual quality, over the numerous PD versions of this out there on the market. But you'll notice the running time is only 72 minutes instead of the original 76 minute length. That's because this is time compressed and was probably taken from an international PAL transfer. As a result, video breakup is evident during fast movements and action scenes and the audio is adversely affected, sounding very sharp and unnatural, particularly Sterling Hayden's voice. There are also no extras on the disc.

For more information about Suddenly, visit Image Entertainment. To order Suddenly, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford

Frank Sinatra in Suddenly on DVD

After winning the Best Supporting Oscar® for From Here to Eternity in 1953, Frank Sinatra was suddenly in a position to pick and choose more challenging dramatic roles. So what did he pick for an encore? The unlikely role of John Baron, a crazed would-be assassin who descends on the sleepy California town of Suddenly with two cohorts in tow, determined to kill the President of the United States. The trio invade the home of Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) and terrorize his family while waiting for the President to arrive in town by train where he will disembark for a fishing trip. Suddenly (1954) - now on DVD from Hal Roach Studios (distributed by Image Entertainment) - is based on a novel by Richard Sale who knew that President Eisenhower liked to travel by train to and from Palm Springs and developed a paranoid fantasy based on that information. While Sinatra's character was totally fictitious, his attempt on the President's life with a rifle from a strategic window location would be duplicated successfully nine years later by Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused killer of President John F. Kennedy. When Sinatra was later told that Oswald had watched Suddenly a few days before committing the murder, he demanded that the film be withdrawn from distribution along with John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962), another assassination thriller in which Sinatra also starred. As a result, both films were difficult to see for many years. Most critics were favorably impressed by Sinatra's performance in Suddenly and the following Newsweek review excerpt was indicative of the general reaction: "As the assassin in the piece, Sinatra superbly refutes the idea that the straight-role potentialities which earned an Academy Award for him in From Here to Eternity were one-shot stuff. In Suddenly, the happy-go-lucky soldier of Eternity becomes one of the most repellent killers in American screen history. Sneeringly arrogant in the beginning, brokenly whimpering at the finish, Sinatra will astonish viewers who flatly resent bobby-soxers' idols." Certainly, Sinatra would take on other dramatic roles in the years to come like The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) and The Joker is Wild (1957), but his performance in Suddenly remains one of his best performances. The Hal Roach Studios DVD release of Suddenly is a definite improvement, in terms of visual quality, over the numerous PD versions of this out there on the market. But you'll notice the running time is only 72 minutes instead of the original 76 minute length. That's because this is time compressed and was probably taken from an international PAL transfer. As a result, video breakup is evident during fast movements and action scenes and the audio is adversely affected, sounding very sharp and unnatural, particularly Sterling Hayden's voice. There are also no extras on the disc. For more information about Suddenly, visit Image Entertainment. To order Suddenly, go to TCM Shopping. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Trivia

This is the film that Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly watched mere days before assassinating JFK, a fact that Frank Sinatra learned years after the tragedy prompting him to withdraw the film from circulation.

In the colorized version Frank Sinatra (Ol' Blue Eyes) is given brown eyes.

After the film was withdrawn from circulation, there was a failure to renew the copyright and it fell into the public domain. As a result, in the early years of home video, the film became widely available from a number of discount/public domain labels

Notes

In the New York Times review of Suddenly, the title is incorrectly given as Suddenly!. The character played by James Lilburn is listed in the onscreen cast list as "Jud Hobson," but in the film he is called "Jud Kelly." Opening and closing cast credits differ in order.
       Although Richard Sale's credit reads "written for the screen by Richard Sale," the film was based on Sale's own short story "Active Duty" published in Blue Book in May 1943. The plot of the film and short story are very similar but with a few exceptions: The short story was set during World War II instead of the film's setting in the Korean War era; In the short story, the mother, rather than being bitter about her husband's disappearance during active duty, joins the war effort by working at an aircraft factory; Unlike the film, the mother in the short story has no romantic interest and, in fact, is not at home during the assassination attempt; Also in the short story, the young boy works in a radio repair shop with his grandfather, who single-handedly subdues both assassins by rewiring his radio to their machine gun, thereby electrocuting them without any gunplay; In the film, however, the older man is a retired Secret Service agent, not a relative.
       The exteriors for the film were shot in Saugus, CA. Libra Productions, Inc. was Robert Bassler's company, and Suddenly was his first film as an independent producer after many years with Twentieth Century-Fox. As noted in a October 25, 1954 Life article about the film, there had been six presidential assassination attempts (to that time), three of which had succeeded (Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley). Some modern sources have stated that after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Frank Sinatra tried to suppress Suddenly as well as another film in which he starred, the 1962 United Artists release The Manchurian Candidate (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70), which also had an assassination theme.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall September 1954

Released in United States Fall September 1954