Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sudden Fear (David Miller, 1952)

I have always downgraded Sudden Fear in favor of Joan Crawford's masterpieces of the decade - Female on the Beach and Johnny Guitar, for sure, but also campier fare like Torch Song and Harriet Craig and Queen Bee and even the more restrained (on her end) Autumn Leaves. It was her greatest decade so there's tough competition. And I still value these films more since camp intensity functions like oxygen for me. But at the very least, Sudden Fear is as taut a thriller as the 1950s ever coughed up.

Miller's film is alive to sound which contributes to much of its tautness. He creates tension with an unnerving calm and then shatters the peace with a sonic shock. A fine reflexive example comes early in the film when Jack Palance starts to court Crawford during a quiet card game on a train. Palance wants to cut the cards so Crawford hands him the deck and says "cut" at which point Miller cuts (get it?) to a shot of the train loudly blasting through the night.

 The film is choked with such moments which jolt you (and Crawford) out of your complacency. Sound even saves Crawford's life at the story's fulcrum but I won't spoil it. A remarkable scene!

Other noteworthy items:

Some naughty scenes testing the limits of the Code where Palance watches Crawford disrobe and put on a bathing suit and a later moment when Crawford is clearly throwing up in the toilet but you don't see or her any of it.

A terrifying windup toy dog.

The appearance of Bruce Bennett (aka Mr. Mildred Pierce).

This amazing car in the train.
And this incredible shot from the credits.

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