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SUDDEN FEAR (director: David Miller; screenwriters: Robert Smith/Lenore J. Coffee/from the novel Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry; cinematographer: Charles B. Lang; editor: Leon Barsha; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Joan Crawford (Myra Hudson), Jack Palance (Lester Blaine), Gloria Grahame (Irene Neves), Bruce Bennett (Steve Kearney), Virginia Huston (Ann Taylor), Touch (Mike) Connors (Junior Kearney); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joseph Kaufman; RKO; 1952)
“The suspense is marred by plot devices that don’t hold up to further scrutiny.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

David Miller stylishly directs this disturbing psychological gargoyle thriller. Writers Robert Smith and Lenore J. Coffee adapt it from the novel Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry. The suspense is marred by plot devices that don’t hold up to further scrutiny. Joan Crawford has a chance to act out on her hysteria after her happy marriage is unmasked as a charade, and does a fine job of trying to remain calm while knowing her hubby and girlfriend are planning to kill her.

Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) is a heiress-turned successful playwright who while helping cast her latest Broadway play cans Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), even though the director likes him for the part. Myra finds him not suitable to be the romantic lead. They meet accidently a month later on a train from New York to San Francisco, where Myra’s returning home and Lester is going to Chicago to look for work. Lester graciously acknowledges that she made the right decision because the play became a hit and they begin a whirlwind courtship in San Francisco. Myra introduces him to her circle of society friends and they soon marry. Their blissful marriage hits a bump when Lester’s ex-girl friend Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame) surprisingly shows up at her house in the arms of Junior Kearney (Mike Conners), who is law partners with his dad Steve–Myra’s attorney. Irene and Lester secretly get back together, as he lets on that he married her for the money. When it’s learned that Myra plans to give away a great chunk of her estate to a heart disease foundation and leave him only an income of $10,000 a year (a will devised by her lawyer without her approval), the lovers scheme to kill her and make it look like an accident before the will is signed after the weekend. But Myra accidentally left a dictating machine on in the study and it recorded the lovers’ eerie conversation. After spending a sleepless night, Myra uses her playwright’s imagination to plan her revenge. It leads to cat-and-mouse games among the love-triangle and to a surprising climax. Why Myra never went to the police with the dictaphone recording remains a mystery to me.

Crawford received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and “method actor” Palance for Best Suppoting Actor. The film is grandly topped off by Charles B. Lang Jr. and his remarkably glossy black-and-white photography.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”