Cast & Crew
During rehearsals of her latest Broadway production, successful playwright Myra Hudson fires leading man Lester Blaine because she feels he is not romantic enough for the part. Furious, Lester, a newcomer, lectures Myra about the nature of romance and storms away. A month later, Myra, who is also a San Francisco heiress, boards a train bound for home. To her surprise, she discovers that Lester is also on board and invites him to her compartment for a drink. Despite their initial animosity, Myra and Lester spend the entire trip together, getting to know each other's fears and dreams. In San Francisco, Myra and Lester's romance blossoms, but one night Lester deliberately fails to show for a dinner party at Myra's posh home. Concerned, Myra drives to Lester's apartment and finds him with his bags packed. When Lester protests that he will never fit into her wealthy world, Myra declares that without him, "she has nothing" and kisses him. Later, after they have married, Lester attends an elegant party with Myra and makes special note of Irene Nevis, the new girl friend of lawyer Junior Kearney, who along with his brother Steve, represents Myra. Lester later surprises Irene, his former lover and partner, at her apartment and demands to know why she followed him to San Francisco. Irene, who read about Lester's marriage in the New York newspapers, alludes to his criminal past, but Lester refuses to be blackmailed. When Lester learns through Steve that Myra is planning to give a large sum to a charity, however, he asks Irene to extract information about it from Junior, then kisses her. Later, Irene tells Lester that Myra is turning her entire inheritance over to charity, keeping only those assets earned by her plays. That Friday, her birthday, Myra meets with Steve in her home office and reveals her desire to leave her play assets to Lester. Although Steve, who had prepared a will in which Lester was to get a mere $10,000 a year, questions Myra's bequeathment, Myra insists on recording new terms on her voice-activated dictaphone. When party guests, including Irene, begin arriving, Myra abandons the recording to greet them. During the evening, Irene slips away and meets with Lester in the office. The next morning, Myra discovers that she left the dictaphone on and plays back the recording. To her horror, she hears Lester and Irene, who had read Steve's version of her will, kissing and plotting to kill her before Monday, the day she is to finalize her donation and sign the will. Devastated, Myra tries to hide the record, but it drops and shatters. Myra spends the day scheming, and while Lester is sleeping, sneaks into his bedroom and steals his key case, which contains Irene's apartment key. Myra has a duplicate key made and returns the case undetected. Myra then announces to Lester that she wants to go to the family summer house, even though it is the off-season. As hoped, Lester insists on accompanying her but, just before they are to leave, Myra states that she has to work all day and sends him to air out the place. Myra, who knows that Irene will not be home, then uses the duplicate key to enter her apartment. Myra takes some of Irene's stationery, as well as a writing sample, and a gun she finds in Irene's closet. She also drops one of Lester's monogrammed handkerchiefs on the floor. Back at home, she forges two notes to and from Irene and Lester, directing Irene to meet Lester in his garage at midnight, and Lester to meet Irene at her apartment at the same time. When Lester returns from the summer house, where he and Irene had been finalizing their murder plot, Myra informs him that they have to stay in town to attend her best friend's birthday party. Lester barely hides his anger over the change, and he and Irene scramble to come up with an alternate plan. That night, as Lester, Irene and others are enjoying pre-party cocktails at Myra's, Myra slips Lester's forged note into Irene's gloves, then deliberately falls down the stairs. Feigning an ankle injury, Myra declares she is staying home and, as Lester carries her upstairs, drops Irene's forged note into his pocket. Later, after pretending to fall asleep, an armed Myra sneaks to Irene's nearby apartment and hides when Irene arrives with Junior. As soon as Irene gets rid of Junior, she leaves to meet Lester in the garage. Soon after, the phone rings, but the caller hangs up as Myra is answering it. Although Myra has imagined how she will shoot Lester, she realizes that she is incapable of murder and drops the gun on the floor, repulsed. Just then, Lester shows up, and Myra races back to the closet. The phone rings again, and when Lester picks it up and hears Junior asking Irene why she failed to answer his previous call, he becomes suspicious. Finding the gun and his planted handkerchief, Lester deduces that he has been set up by Myra and races off in his car. Myra then takes off on foot, and Lester spots her and gives chase. At the same time, Irene leaves Lester's garage, wearing a white scarf identical to Myra's. Filled with murderous rage, Lester mistakes Irene for Myra and runs her down, killing both himself and Irene. As passersby discover the wreckage, Myra walks off, stunned but safe.
Edward G. Boyle
T. A. Carman
Charles B. Lang Jr.
B. C. Wylie
Best Costume Design
Best Supporting Actor
Crawford had just asked to be let out of her Warner Bros. contract when she went to RKO Radio Pictures to make Sudden Fear for Joseph Kaufmann Productions. Like many of her contemporaries, her career had hit a slump in the early 50s and she needed a hit. She found it in the melodrama of David Miller's film. Lenore J. Coffee and Robert Smith's screenplay, based on the novel by Edna Sherry, has Broadway playwright Myra Hudson (Crawford) marrying actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), after a whirlwind romance, but when Lester learns that the wealthy Myra is rewriting her will in order to leave her money to a foundation, he plans to murder her with his old girlfriend, Irene (Gloria Grahame). Myra finds out about the murder plot and must plot a murder of her own. Also in the cast were Bruce Bennett, Virginia Huston, and future television star Mike Connors.
Jack Palance was not the first choice for the role of the unfaithful and murderous husband; Crawford's old friend and lover, Clark Gable, was approached to play the part, but refused because he didn't think it was right for him. Director David Miller agreed, believing that the actor who played Lester needed to have the right amount of menace. To get Crawford on his side, he went to her home for dinner with a print of the 20th Century-Fox film Panic in the Streets (1950), which he played over and over again for the next two weeks, asking her to study the construction of the film. Crawford thought that it was the film's star, Richard Widmark, that Miller was trying to sell, but it was Palance. He got the part.
When the film was released in August 1952, the critics were impressed with Crawford's acting, if not the film itself. The New York Times film critic "A.W." wrote, "Since she is an actress who is sturdy enough to bear the weight of an unsensational yarn, Joan Crawford should be credited with a truly professional performance [...] Sudden Fear is a polished vehicle for her talents but it contains nothing that is strikingly surprising. A viewer not entirely a slave to Miss Crawford's brand of histrionics might argue that an excessive amount of footage is given to close-ups of the lady in the throes of mental traumas and other emotional disturbances. In general, however, she behaves in a convincing manner since, after all, she is involved with a homicidal husband." Kaspar Monahan, writing for The Pittsburgh Press proclaimed that "Joan Crawford has an acting field day, [...] demonstrating her mastery of emotional fireworks in a manner reminiscent of her Oscar-winning performance in Mildred Pierce."
Sudden Fear didn't win Crawford an Academy Award, but she did come close. When the nominations were announced, Crawford was up for Best Actress, losing to Shirley Booth in Come Back Little Sheeba (1952). She did win a Golden Laurel award for Best Dramatic Performance, and earned a Golden Globe nomination for her work in this film. Jack Palance was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, and although he lost, Palance would later credit this film for making him a star.
The Internet Movie Database
Monahan, Kaspar "Thriller Opens at Stanley" The Pittsburgh Press 25 Aug 52.
Nehme, Farran Smith, "Sudden Fear" Film Comment 11 Aug 16
Quirk, Lawrence and Shoell, William Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography
A.W. "Sudden Fear, Cleverly Turned Melodrama, Is New Bill at Loew's State" The New York Times 8 Aug 52
By Lorraine LoBianco
Sudden Fear on DVD
But even without Crawford, Sudden Fear would have succeeded on the strength of its ingenious screenplay alone. It's an intricately plotted tale about Myra Hudson, a wealthy middle-aged playwright who is casting her current play on Broadway. She takes a dislike to Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), the leading man favored by her director and has him dismissed for lacking the appropriate romantic qualities for a leading man. When she later encounters Blaine on a cross-country train trip to San Francisco, the actor charms her with his unpretentious manner and she soon finds herself falling in love with him. By the time they reach the coast, they've become an item and in record time they're married. Myra's wonderful new husband soon proves to be a better actor than she ever imagined. Shortly after their honeymoon Myra discovers a chilling conversation accidentally captured on the dictation machine in her study - Lester and his mistress Irene (Gloria Grahame) are plotting to kill her for her money.
Visually, Sudden Fear has the look of a film noir and even has some of the trappings of that genre (a dangerous femme fatale, an amoral male protagonist, etc.) but it is essentially a suspense thriller. The cinematography by Charles Lang uses shadows and isolated light sources brilliantly, particularly in the nerve-wracking sequence where Myra spies on Lester through a closet door in Irene's apartment as he discovers a loaded gun on the floor. The on-location footage of San Francisco is also evocative and should be of interest to anyone who knows and loves the city. Myra's spectacular Pacific Heights home on Scott Street is now the Indonesian Consulate and the Tamalpais Apartment building (where Irene lives) can still be seen on Greenwich Street. Best of all is the way director David Miller uses the steep hills and twisting streets of San Francisco in his neat twist ending.
In a strange case of reality imitating fiction, Joan Crawford was opposed to Jack Palance as her leading man in Sudden Fear for the same reasons that Myra Hudson opposed the casting of Lester Blaine in her play. She didn't think he was handsome enough or leading man material. Instead she wanted Clark Gable for the role, even though the character was supposed to a younger man. Director David Miller had a difficulty time convincing her to accept Palance. According to Bob Thomas in his biography, Joan Crawford, Miller told her: "In your last few pictures, Joan, you've played not only the female lead but the male lead as well. That won't work in this picture. We need suspense for the audience. Hitchcock will take a girl like Joan Fontaine, who is as delicate as Dresden china, and dress her in a tweed suit with a bun in her hair to make her even more vulnerable." Her eyes began to brim. "You mean I'm not a woman." Miller kissed her on the cheek to stop the tears. "I'm not talking about here and now. I'm talking about what happens before the camera." "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I'm sorry," he said. "All right, I'll take Jack Palance." Despite the fact that both actors approached their craft differently - Crawford was schooled in the studio system, Palance was a product of the Actors Studio in New York City - they compliment each other perfectly in the context of the story and make Sudden Fear a memorable viewing experience.
The Kino International DVD of Sudden Fear is a perfectly acceptable disk though it has not been given a major restoration for this release. The black and white source materials look fairly clean and sharp for the most part though there is some occasional graininess. The Dolby digital mono track is also preferable to the rather weak monophobic sound but this DVD will sustain fans of the film until someone undertakes a major DVD restoration of Sudden Fear.
For more information about the film, visit KINO INTERNATIONAL.
By Jeff Stafford
Sudden Fear on DVD
I was just wondering what I'd done to deserve you- Myra Hudson
Miss Hudson, in your own native city of San Francisco, there's an art gallery in the Legion of Honor in which there's an oil painting of Casanova. It's quite obvious that you have never seen this painting. For your information, Miss Hudson, this is what Casanova looked like. He had big ears, a scar over one eye, a broken nose, and a wart on his chin, right here. I suggest, Miss Hudson, that when you return to San Francisco, you visit this gallery and see this painting!- Lester Blaine
Marlon Brando was originally offered the role of Lester Blaine
Sudden Fear marked the first film in which Jack Palance's first name is listed as "Jack" instead of "Walter Jack." Although two songs are listed in the onscreen credits, none were performed in the film. According to a November 1949 Daily Variety news item, producer Joseph Kaufman first intended to shoot the picture in Europe. In July 1951, Hollywood Reporter announced that the film would be "rolling in the East." Location filming actually took place in San Francisco, including Golden Gate Park. Although Ferris Taylor was announced as a cast member in a June 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, and Esther Dale was announced as a cast member in a February 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, neither appeared in the final film.
According to a July 1952 Variety item, Joan Crawford and director David Miller worked on a participation basis. Modern sources note that Crawford, who had script and casting approval, chose to receive a forty percent interest in the $720,000 picture in lieu of a $200,000 salary. Crawford originally requested Clark Gable as her co-star, according to modern sources. Miller, who thought Gable too old and well-known for the role, screened the 1950 Twentieth Century-Fox film Panic in the Streets, in which Jack Palance had a small but pivotal part, three times for Crawford, and she eventually agreed to cast him. RKO exploited the film heavily, and the picture was a box office success, according to contemporary sources. Sudden Fear marked Palance's first major role and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The film also received nominations for Best Actress (Crawford), Best Cinematography (b&w) and Best Costume Design (b&w).
Released in United States August 1952
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1952
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1952
Released in United States August 1952