Sudden Fear

David Miller

T. it.: So che mi ucciderai. Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Edna Sherry. Scen.: Lenore Coffee, Robert Smith. F.: Charles B. Lang Jr. M.: Leon Barsha. Scgf.: Boris Leven, Edward G. Boyle. Mus.: Elmer Bernstein. Su.: T.A. Carman, Howard Wilson. Int.: Joan Crawford (Myra Hudson), Jack Palance (Lester Blaine), Gloria Grahame (Irene Neves), Bruce Bennett (Steve Kearney), Virginia Huston (Ann Taylor), Touch Conners (Junior Kearney). Prod.: Joseph Kaufmann per Joseph Kaufmann Productions. Pri. pro.: 7 agosto 1952 DCP. D.: 111′. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

It was the time when Joan Crawford emerged from the tangled mess of melodrama and noir, at times defeated, at times victorious,  but  always  alone. “Alone with her regret”, as the Italian title of Harriet Craig suggests (Vincent  Sherman,  1950); alone like a resourceful single mother can be, whose beloved first daughter has an affair with her mother’s man, then kills him, in the masterpiece Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945); alone and lost on the roads of Los Angeles, prey to the insanity that is rooted in abandonment, in Curtis Berhardt’s Possessed (1947). At time she does not emerge at all, in fact she sinks to the bottom of the ocean, like in the Wagnerian sublime finale to Humoresque. Is there a reason for any of this? Looking at twenty years of American cinema as a moral catalogue, we might think this is what happens when you have been such a dancing daughter, or a wife stealer with painted red nails, like Joan was in Cukor’s The  Women… However,  Sudden Fear treads the same ground without upsetting the standard. Myra Hudson is, however, an interesting character, even one with an unusual premise: a playwright (and  if  in  these  years there  are  various  women  writers  on  the screen, very few of them write for the theatre), a woman who is rich from her inheritance but who lives off her talent, self-assured and domineering. However, she has that basic feminine weakness, which the heroines of the Forties woman’s films had so bitterly dealt with, she becomes sad because she misses a man. On the long train voyage from New York to San Francisco, she gives in to the flattery of a young mediocre actor who she had previously rejected in an audition. (These are really beautiful sequences and the restoration gives justice to their nostalgic side, the lost urban landscapes and San Francisco in the sun in 1952). The rest is well-known material, he is Jack Palance and he chooses Gloria Grahame over her, he puts together a plan to kill, she discovers everything and gives a show of a self-defense that is like a mousetrap, playing with the lights and shades of the night… but she is really petrified with pain, and the film becomes a study of Joan Crawford’s face, eyes open wide and every muscle in spasm, causing the not very kind Bosley Crowther to write that Mrs. Crawford’s “theatrical personality has now reached the ossified stage”. The director David Miller would return to work with a mature damsel in distress in the best remembered of his films, Midnight Lace, a pleasantly camp Hitchcockian variation. That however was in 1960, the shadow of noir and the guilt of woman’s film are behind us, the damsel is Doris Day and she would not even think about doing it herself, nor being on her own; so she is liberated from this charming but rather old wife killer by a handsome architect who is, this time serenely, much younger than her.

Paola Cristalli

Copy From

Restored in 2012 by Cohen Film Collection at Modern Videofilm from a 35mm fine grain and sound positive, both struck from a 35MM negative held at the BFI National Archive