Sudden Fear - 1952
Crawford Vs. Palance
Sudden Fear - Released August 1952 - Directed by David Miller
Joan Crawford (as Myra Hudson) has to take on the deadly duo of Jack Palance (as Lester Blaine) and Gloria Grahame (as Irene Neves) who plot to kill and rob Myra of her vast wealth.
This is a fairly sinister triangle for director David Miller's noir-take on phony love and real greed (the film is also superficially related to the 1948 Sorry, Wrong Number with Barbara Stanwyck).
Grahame is playing a part she repeated in other films, and Palance as a villain is a standard part for him (though in Sudden Fear he plays the sincere lover so effectively it's momentarily disappointing to see him revealed as a two-faced cad). Crawford is her usual professional best with her role as an older woman who is fooled by false affection from a younger man, crushed by the truth surprising her in a most painful fashion, and then pulls herself together to not only save her own life, but to also procure a great big slice of revenge (though the size of this slice was actually unintended, it's just that Lester's murderous nature increased this twist by a magnitude.)
The entire story is wrapped up in noir atmospherics provided by cinematographer Charles Lang and art direction from Boris Leven. Director David Miller keeps the tale rolling and uses a variety of non-standard camera angles to build tension and make Myra Hudson's world simply dark at first and then increasingly dangerous, closed-in and filled with potential danger with each subsequent scene.
Sudden Fear is a bit of a departure for Joan Crawford because her character is specifically an older woman of uncertain physical attractiveness (there's little of the usual packaging of Crawford as a figure of glamour, though she is certainly well-dressed in this part) and her character's great asset is not looks, money, or charm, but a resourceful brain. The courage to face off against two assassins is necessary to tell the story, but Crawford often played brave women in other tales. What is different here is the script for Sudden Fear by Lenore J. Coffee, Robert Smith and an uncredited Joan Crawford (from the novel by Edna Sherry) which pins the fate of the main character on how she thinks. As Lester and Irene's simple murder plot falls apart, and Myra's complex counter-plot takes over their lives, it's clear the two foolishly brought checkers to a game of chess.
At the beginning of the film, Lester conducts a carefully crafted campaign to woo Myra into marriage, which then puts him within legal reach of grabbing her money (though he meticulously builds a false persona as a man with too much dignity to live off his wive's mountain of cash). The only problem is he can't get the money until Myra's demise, and now that he is wed he's not sure how to pull that part of his plan together.
Then old girlfriend Irene shows up, and Lester has to maneuver his life around two women, and Irene is particularly demanding and possibly half-crazy, infatuated with Lester's declarations of violence against her in the guise of affection "I'm crazy about you, I'd like to crush your bones."
Impatient with the status quo, she adds pressure to Lester's anxiety by getting information on Myra's legal will which apparently leaves very little to Lester in case of Myra's demise. Little do Irene and Lester know that Myra had rejected the will and had ordered it rewritten to more generously endow Lester with wealth.
Myra continues to live as a happily married woman (she is also incidentally a successful playwright in this tale, and her imagination comes in handy later in the story) but her sense of reality gets blown to pieces when an accidentally recorded conversation between Irene and Lester reveals the murderous plot to obtain Myra's money. The phonographic Dictaphone that provided this key bit of information is a standard part of Myra's office, but learning of the brutal betrayal of her love sends her into such a nervous state she ends up accidentally destroying the recording, the evidence she needs to be able to demonstrate to anyone else of the plot against her.
Now left to her own devices to protect herself, Myra creates an ingenious plan that will save her life and will force Lester and Irene to reveal their true nature and intentions.
Joan Crawford Films
Original Page March 2016 | Updated June 2016