SUDDENLY(director: Lewis Allen; screenwriter: Richard Sale; cinematographer: Charles Clarke; editor: John Schreyer; music: David Raksin; cast: Frank Sinatra (John Baron), Sterling Hayden (Tod Shaw), James Gleason (Pop Benson), Nancy Gates (Ellen Benson), Paul H. Frees (Benny Conklin), Willis B. Bouchey (Dan Carney), Christopher Dark (Bart Wheeler), Kim Charney (Peter “Pidge” Benson III), Ken Dibbs (Wilson), James Lilburn (Jud Kelly), Paul Wexler (Slim Adams); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Bassler; United Artists; 1954)
“What I liked best was that Frank [Sinatra] wore a fedora throughout, even indoors.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Lewis Allen (“The Uninvited”) directs this fast-paced crime thriller, a minor film written by Richard Sale, about a violent incident that interrupts the tranquil life of a middle-class family and changes their life significantly. Frank Sinatra stars and delightfully shows up for the part, while Sterling Hayden helps with a fine supporting role performance and the gritty 80-year-old James Gleason provides some laughs for this grim narrative. The plot centers around three cold-blooded hired assassins, John Baron (Frank Sinatra), Benny (Paul H. Frees), and Bart (Christopher Dark), coming to a sleepy small-town called Suddenly, in California, where they plan to assassinate the President when his train makes an unscheduled secret 5-minute stopover before going on to Los Angeles.
The unholy trio pose as FBI agents and maneuver their way into the Benson home–consisting of the widow Mrs. Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates), who lost her husband three years ago during the war and has become a pacifist, her rambunctious 8-year-old son Pidge, and her husband’s father, a lovable former Secret Service agent, Pop Benson (James Gleason)–and hold them hostages. The suburban home is on a hill overlooking the train depot where the President is set to be at 5 pm., and from the living room window they get a good view of the depot. When Secret Service agent Carney (Willis B. Bouchey) and Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) enter the house for a security check, the agent is killed and Tod is winged in the arm. Later TV repairman Jud Kelly is taken hostage. The upstanding lawman has been unsuccessfully trying to court the widow, but Ellen won’t give the gun-toting sheriff the time of day even though her son idolizes him. She now lovingly nurses Tod, as the subplot develops if these two can now be a match.
Baron turns out to be a psychopathic killer who is being paid $500,000 for the hit, and beams that his actions will make him a somebody. He says he was a somebody during the war because as a sniper he killed 27 Germans and won a Silver Star. There’s a lot of chatter between Tod and Baron, as the sheriff uses psychology to try and unhinge the crazed killer. But the methodical Baron is determined to go through with the assassination, even when things begin to unravel. Though the plot seems implausible and there’s not much more than the action to consider, it’s nevertheless carried off reasonably well and remains tense even though one can easily guess what the outcome will be.
What I liked best was that Frank [Sinatra] wore a fedora throughout, even indoors. It’s interesting to note that it was filmed years before the Kennedy assassination, but there are many similarities between the Sinatra character and Lee Harvey Oswald.
REVIEWED ON 2/11/2005 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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