Thursday, February 7, 2008

SUDDEN FEAR (RKO 1952) Kino Video

David Miller’s Sudden Fear (1952) is a rarity in the Joan Crawford canon; a superior thriller produced at a time when RKO Studios was in a state of inferiorly funded steady decline. The film provides Crawford with one of her best roles; that of playwright Myra Hudson. Seems Myra deems it necessary to fire actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) from her show during New York rehearsals. He’s unprofessional and keeps flubbing his lines. Myra, a perfectionist, will not brook his insubordination. After all, who does he think he is?

However, this showdown does not last for long. In fact, after accidentally bumping into Lester on the train ride home, Myra has second thoughts about her hasty dismissal. Lester seems an entirely different person to her now. He’s congenial, flirtatious, fun to be with and a very amiable romantic interest. Before the trip is over, Lester has finagled his way into a dinner invitation. He becomes Myra’s steady and then, her husband.

Caught up in her own whirlwind of romantic fancy, Myra believes she is living the idyllic marriage and decides, in a moment of stupidity, to confide to Lester that her new Will makes him sole executor of her formidable estate should anything happen to her.

Myra continues to find beauty and joy in everything her husband does until she accidentally overhears a recorded conversation between Lester and his old flame, Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame). Turns out, Irene wants Lester back. More to the point, Lester seems to have married Myra expressly for her money and, now that he knows he holds the key to her riches once she is 'out of the way' he really has no problem conspiring with Irene to bump Myra off.

Moving swiftly against her conspirators, Myra decides to kill Lester and set Irene up for the crime. She continues to refine this plan while playing the part of the dutiful spouse in Lester’s presence. However, she has no concrete plans on how best to carry out her revenge scenario. At one point, Myra hides in Lester’s closet, holding her breath as she observes his discovery of her knowledge about their murder plot.

Eventually, fate steps in. Wearing a coat and scarf that is reminiscent of one Myra wore the last time he saw her, Lester mistakes Irene for his wife and runs her down in his car, losing control and killing himself in the process. Myra learns of their deaths and returns home – purged of, and liberated from, her ‘sudden fear.’

By the time of Sudden Fear Crawford's career had crested into mediocrity for the third and last time; her best work seemingly behind her from both her MGM and later, Warner Bros. tenures. Crawford's star would rise again in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? She would also do a few more solid acting turns for Columbia throughout the 1950s. But for the most part, Sudden Fear marks the occasion between the luminous first two/thirds and the ever deteriorating last act of her weighty film career.

Joan Crawford must be given her due. She was and remains a consummate professional. Her craftsmanship and subtly nuanced performance elevates her rather conventional role in Sudden Fear to high art. And she's surrounded by actors who know and respect her talent and are doing their utmost to keep up with her on camera zeitgeist. As Myra, Crawford juggles fear, confidence, insecurity, elation and fright with not a false emotion among them registering on the big screen. She's a diva, a tyrannt, a tower of strength and a terrorized female all at once.

I don't know of another actress except Bette Davis who could do this sort of pantomine so well and sell it to an audience with such strength of conviction. Like most movies in which she starred, Sudden Fear is all Joan, all the time. We don't have actresses of her magnitude these days and our movie going experience is poorer in her absence. La Crawford - I salute you!

Despite its RKO pedigree (which should have made Sudden Fear the property of Warner Home Video today) this film has been in public domain for many years. This DVD release by Kino is lousy, lacking in overall clarity and sharpness. Generally speaking, the contrast levels are solidly rendered, but fine detail is lost in darkly lit scenes.

Film grain is rather heavy and occasionally digitally harsh looking. Age related artefacts are everywhere. The audio is mono and adequately represented. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



No comments: