Although it runs nearly two full hours, Sudden Fear has a very believable set of characters and circumstances to fill the time.
A successful playwright falls in love with an actor who, she discovers, wants to kill her for her fortune.
Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) is not only a successful and highly respected playwright, she is also a very wealthy and independent woman, but she has been alone all her life because she has never found anyone who loves her for who she is, not just for her money. The struggling actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), whom she once fired from one of her plays for not looking good enough, shows up. They get on the train and something unexpected happens: They fall in love with each other, and it’s believable. She sees him in a new light, and he sees an intelligent, attractive and beautiful woman, and the discomfort between them quickly fades. They are at court, and he has no idea how rich he is until they get married. It appears to be loaded: She has a huge fortune, real estate and wealth, not to mention the income her pieces bring in, apparently numerous. When they get married, Myra is so in love with Lester that she doesn’t even care that he doesn’t make any money. But when she discovers, quite by accident, that he wants to kill her for her money and possessions (and that he despises her too) with his girlfriend by his side (played by Gloria Grahame), Myra is dumbfounded. With the clock ticking as her husband and accomplice plan to kill her, she must plan her survival very quickly and somehow turn the tide? But even in her most desperate act of self-defense, she sees herself as an alien, terrified to the end.
Although it runs nearly two full hours, Sudden Fear has a very believable set of characters and circumstances to fill the time. Palance is the perfect leader in the role he played here: It’s unexpectedly romantic and terribly awful. Crawford dives deep into her role, and she goes through a range of emotions, from falling in love with a mature, older woman to shock and utter despair when she realizes who she is, who she is married to. Once the thriller comes into play, the film doesn’t stop until the final shots, and it’s pretty intense even when you realize Palance is the bad guy. What is interesting is how Crawford plans to survive the change, and she is forced to adapt to the mistakes she makes. Directed by David Miller and set to music by Elmer Bernstein, Sudden Fear is a good mystery/thriller film noir, but maybe not great.
The recently released Sudden Fear DVD features a 2K restoration transfer of the film and also offers a number of special features, including a new audio commentary by the TCM historian and a trailer.
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