Sudden Fear

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Sudden Fear
Sudden fear-1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Miller
Screenplay byLenore J. Coffee
Robert Smith
Based onSudden Fear
1948 novel
by Edna Sherry
Produced byJoseph Kaufman
StarringJoan Crawford
Jack Palance
Gloria Grahame
CinematographyCharles Lang
Edited byLeon Barsha
Music byElmer Bernstein
Color processBlack and white
Joseph Kaufmann Productions
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.65 million
(USA rentals)[2]

Sudden Fear is a 1952 American film noir thriller film directed by David Miller, and starring Joan Crawford and Jack Palance in a tale about a successful woman who marries a murderous man. The screenplay by Lenore J. Coffee and Robert Smith was based upon the novel of the same name by Edna Sherry.[3]


Myra Hudson (Crawford) is a successful Broadway playwright who rejects Lester Blaine (Palance) as the lead in her new play. Later, she meets Lester on a train bound for San Francisco, is swept off her feet and, after a brief courtship, marries him.

Lester is unaware that Myra is making changes to her will which will ensure he would inherit everything. She has begun dictating these alterations into her personal dictating machine but is interrupted when guests begin to arrive for the evening. She forgets to turn the machine off and, later, when Lester and his long-time lover, Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame), are in Myra's study, they find the original will which stipulates that the bulk of her fortune be left to a foundation. Irene suggests Myra's murder and, unknown to the couple, their subsequent plotting is recorded.

Myra discovers their plans and concocts a scheme of her own, to kill Lester and place the blame on Irene, but the complex timing—so she herself is assured an alibi—starts to unravel. Lester learns of Myra's intentions and, after life-and-death shifts in everybody's murderous aims, ultimately ends up chasing her in his car through the streets of San Francisco. On foot, Myra is able to avoid him, and eventually Lester mistakes Irene for Myra (they are dressed alike). He aims the car at the woman. Myra, seeing this at the last minute, shouts to stop him but it is too late. Lester crashes, killing both himself and Irene. Myra breathes a sigh of relief as she walks safely off into the night.



Critical response[edit]

When the film was released, the film critic for The New York Times, A. H. Weiler, reviewed the film favorably: "Joan Crawford should be credited with a truly professional performance in Sudden Fear ... The entire production has been mounted in excellent taste and, it must be pointed out, that San Francisco and Los Angeles, Bunker Hill area, in which most of the action takes place, is an excitingly photogenic area. David Miller, the director, has taken full advantage of the city's steep streets and panoramic views. And, in his climactic scenes in a darkened apartment and a chase through its precipitous dark alleys and backyards he has managed to project an authentically doom-filled atmosphere."[4]

Otis L. Guernsey Jr., also wrote a positive review in the New York Herald Tribune. He wrote: "The designed to allow Miss Crawford a wide range of quivering reactions to vicious events, as she passes through the stage of starry-eyed love, terrible disillusionment, fear, hatred, and finally hysteria. With her wide eyes and forceful bearing, she is the woman for the job."[5]

Village Voice reviewer Melissa Anderson wrote in 2016 that Sudden Fear "fits into and defies different genres, its convention-scrambling partly the result of the fact that the film looks both forward and back."[6] Dennis Schwartz liked the film, but questioned some of the film's plot points, saying that "David Miller stylishly directs this disturbing psychological gargoyle thriller ... [Yet] ... the suspense is marred by plot devices that don't hold up to further scrutiny. Joan Crawford has a chance to act out on her hysteria after her happy marriage is unmasked as a charade, and does a fine job of trying to remain calm while knowing her hubby and [his] girlfriend are planning to kill her ... The film is grandly topped off by Charles B. Lang Jr. and his remarkably glossy black-and-white photography."[7]

Crawford received her third and final Oscar nomination for this film, the only time she competed against arch-rival Bette Davis for Best Actress, who was nominated (for the tenth time) for The Star. Neither actress won; Shirley Booth took home the prize for Come Back, Little Sheba.[8]

Noir analysis[edit]

In 1984, film noir historian Spencer Selby noted, "Undoubtedly one of the most stylish and refined woman-in-distress noirs."[9]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Joan Crawford Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jack Palance Nominated
Best Cinematography, Black and White Charles Lang Nominated
Best Costume Design, Black and White Sheila O'Brien Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture, Drama Joan Crawford Nominated
Laurel Awards Best Female Dramatic Performance Joan Crawford Won

Home media[edit]

Sudden Fear was first released on VHS by Kino Video. Kino also released the film on Region 1 DVD in 2003. In 2006, the film was also released as part of Film Noir - The Dark Side of Hollywood DVD box set by Kino Video. In 2016, the film was released on Blu-ray by Cohen Film Collection.


  1. ^ "Joan Crawford Maps Indie Firm with Joe Kaufman". Variety. 21 May 1952. p. 7.
  2. ^ "Top Box-Office Hits of 1952", Variety, January 7, 1953.
  3. ^ Sudden Fear at the TCM Movie Database.
  4. ^ Wiler, A.H. The New York Times, film review, "Sudden Fear, Cleverly Turned Melodrama, Is New Bill at Loew's State", August 8, 1952. Accessed: July 14, 2013.
  5. ^ Quirk, Lawrence J.. The Films of Joan Crawford. The Citadel Press, 1968.
  6. ^ Anderson, Melissa. The Village Voice, film review, August 10, 2016. Accessed: August 9, 2017.
  7. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 12, 2005. Accessed: July 14, 2013.
  8. ^ "THE 25TH ACADEMY AWARDS". The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Retrieved May 4, 2022.
  9. ^ Spencer Selby (1984). Dark City: The Film Noir. McFarland Classic. ISBN 0-7864-0478-7.

External links[edit]