Suddenly (1954 film)
theaterical release poster
|Directed by||Lewis Allen|
|Produced by||Robert Bassler|
|Screenplay by||Richard Sale|
|Based on||Active Duty|
(1943 story in Blue Book)
by Richard Sale
|Music by||David Raksin|
|Cinematography||Charles G. Clarke|
|Edited by||John F. Schreyer|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|75 or 77 minutes|
Suddenly is a 1954 American film noir and crime film directed by Lewis Allen with a screenplay written by Richard Sale. The drama stars Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden, and features James Gleason and Nancy Gates.
The story concerns a small California town whose tranquility is shattered when the train of the president of the United States is scheduled to make a stop in the town, and a hired assassin and his henchmen take over a home that provides a perfect vantage point from which to assassinate the president.
In post-war America, a train carrying the president of the United States is scheduled to make a stop in the small town of Suddenly, California. Claiming to be FBI agents checking up on security before the president’s arrival, three men arrive at the home of the Bensons: Ellen, a widow, her young son “Pidge,” and her father-in-law, “Pop” Benson. The house is on top of a hill that looks down on the station where the presidential train is scheduled to stop, making it a perfect perch from which to shoot the president when his train stops. However, it soon becomes clear that the men are not Government agents but assassins, led by the ruthless John Baron (Frank Sinatra), who take over the house and hold the family hostage, planning to shoot the president from a large window in the home.
Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) arrives with Dan Carney (Willis Bouchey), the Secret Service agent in charge of the president's security detail. When he does, Baron and his gangsters shoot Carney dead and a bullet fractures Shaw's arm.
Baron sends Benny, one of his two henchmen, to double-check on the president's schedule, but shortly after confirming to Baron that the train is scheduled to stop in Suddenly at 5 p.m., Benny is killed in a shootout with the police. Meanwhile, Jud (James O'Hara), a television repairman, has shown up at the house and also becomes a hostage. Pidge (Kim Charney) goes to his grandfather's dresser to get some medication and notices a fully loaded revolver which he replaces with his toy cap gun.
When the hostages try to appeal to Baron’s patriotism, it becomes clear that he has none: He has been hired to kill the president for money. But when Baron is confronted by the sheriff on the risks of killing the president, including whether he will ever see (let alone live to enjoy) his money, Baron's remaining henchman begins to show some reluctance to go through with the assassination. For Baron, however, these are the very least of his concerns, and it soon becomes clear that he is a psychopath whose pleasure comes from killing – whom and why he kills being of little importance to him.
In the meantime, the assassins have mounted a WWII-vintage German sniper's rifle onto a metal table by the window overlooking the train station. Jud, under the guise of fixing the TV, discreetly hooks the table up to the 5000-volt plate output of the family television. Pop Benson (James Gleason) then intentionally spills a cup of water on the floor beneath the table. Although the hope is that Baron will be shocked and killed in this way, it is his remaining henchman who touches the table first and is electrocuted, reflexively firing the rifle repeatedly and attracting the attention of police at the train station. Baron shoots and mortally wounds Jud, disconnects the electrical hook-up and aims the rifle as the president's train arrives at the station, only to see the train pass straight through. As an utterly surprised Baron says “[i]t didn’t stop,” Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates) shoots Baron in the abdomen, and Shaw picks up a gun and shoots him a second time. Baron, having dropped to the floor, begs for mercy —— "No, don't...no, please...no, no, no" —— and dies.
In the aftermath of the harrowing incident, outside the local hospital Shaw confirms to Ellen that Jud “didn’t make it.” Telling Ellen that he needs to go back to his office, Shaw then makes plans to meet Ellen after church the next day, and they kiss. After she leaves, a driver stops to ask for directions and then asks for the name of the town. When Shaw says it is “Suddenly,” the driver notes that “that’s a funny name for a town.”
- Frank Sinatra as John Baron
- Sterling Hayden as Sheriff Tod Shaw
- James Gleason as Peter "Pop" Benson
- Nancy Gates as Ellen Benson
- Kim Charney as Peter "Pidge" Benson III
- Willis Bouchey as Dan Carney, Chief Secret Service Agent
- Paul Frees as Benny Conklin (also voice of TV announcer)
- Christopher Dark as Bart Wheeler
- James Lilburn as Jud Hobson
- Ken Dibbs as Wilson
- Clark Howat as Haggerty
- Charles Smith as Bebop
- Paul Wexler as Deputy Sheriff Slim Adams
- Dan White as Burg
- Richard Collier as Hawkins
- Roy Engel as first driver
- Ted Stanhope as second driver
- Charles Wagenheim as Kaplan
- John Berardino as trooper
- Frank Sinatra's role in Suddenly was the first occasion on which he was cast as a "heavy" in a dramatic film.
- Actor Paul Frees, who plays one of Sinatra's henchmen, is best known for his voiceover work, such as for the character Boris Badunov in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.
Writer Richard Sale gained his idea for the short story which was the basis of the film after he read stories in the news about President Dwight D. Eisenhower traveling to and from Palm Springs, California by train. There were differences between the story and the film, the most thematically important being that the mother in the story was not bitter about her husband's death in World War II, and in fact, was not present during the assassination attempt, so never had to make the choice the mother in the film has to make: whether to shoot and kill the assassin when the opportunity arises.
The exterior scenes for Suddenly were filmed in Saugus, California.
When the film was released, Bosley Crowther, the film critic for The New York Times, liked the direction of the film and the acting, and writing "Yet such is the role that Mr. Sinatra plays in Suddenly!, a taut little melodrama that...[it] shapes up as one of the slickest recent items in the minor movie league...we have several people to thank—particularly Richard Sale for a good script, which tells a straight story credibly, Mr. Allen for direction that makes both excitement and sense, Mr. Bassler for a production that gets the feel of a small town and the cast which includes Sterling Hayden, James Gleason and Nancy Gates." Crowther especially liked Sinatra's performance. He wrote, "Mr. Sinatra deserves a special chunk of praise...In Suddenly! he proves it in a melodramatic tour de force."
The staff reviewer at Variety gave the film a good review and praised the acting. He wrote "[Sinatra] inserts plenty of menace into a psycho character, never too heavily done, and gets good backing from his costar, Sterling Hayden, as sheriff, in a less showy role but just as authoritatively handled. Lewis Allen's direction manages a smart piece where static treatment easily could have prevailed."
The reviewer for Newsweek wrote about Sinatra's performance that he "superbly refutes the idea that the straight-role potentialities which earned an Academy Award for him in From Here to Eternity were one-shot stuff. In Suddenly, the happy-go-lucky soldier of Eternity becomes one of the most repellent killers in American screen history."
Film critic Carl Mazek in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (1982) makes the case that the "Machiavellian attitude" of John Baron links the picture with the brutal films noir of the 1950s like The Big Night (1951) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Moreover, he continued:
The sense of claustrophobia and despair unleashed by the assassins in Suddenly is completely amoral, and totally opposite of the style of harassment found in such non-noir, socially redemptive films as The Desperate Hours ...There are no reasons given, or asked for, regarding the assassination - the entire incident functions as a nightmare, a very real nightmare that invades the serenity of a small town. At the end of the film, it is apparent that the Benson family will never be the same, suddenly scarred by people out of nowhere who irrevocably disrupt their middle-class tranquility.
In 1959, five years after the release of Suddenly, The Manchurian Candidate, a novel written by Richard Condon, a former Hollywood press agent, was published. As with Suddenly, Condon's book features a mentally troubled former war hero who, at the climax of the story, uses a rifle with a scope to shoot at a politician, in the case of the novel, a presidential candidate. The Manchurian Candidate was released as a film in 1962, starring Sinatra, but this time he was trying to prevent an assassination being committed by Laurence Harvey.
Sinatra asked United Artists to withdraw Suddenly from circulation because he heard the rumor that Lee Harvey Oswald had seen it before shooting President Kennedy. According to Hollywood legend, Sinatra bought up all remaining copies of Suddenly and had them destroyed, but this was not true. Sinatra also supposedly wanted The Manchurian Candidate – of which he was a producer – withdrawn after the assassination, but its disappearance was caused by its having completed a normal film release schedule.
Loss of copyright
The film's copyright was not renewed and it entered the public domain; it can be downloaded and viewed for free online. Prior to it entering the public domain, the film was widely available from a number of discount/public domain distributors. Suddenly was colorized for home video by Hal Roach Studios in 1986, rendering Sinatra's blue eyes brown. A remastered colorized version by Legend Films was released to DVD on June 16, 2009, which also includes a newly restored print of the original black and white film.
Serge Bromberg, a film preservationist based in Paris, completely restored the film from a camera negative for Lobster Films, which released it in 2018.
- Assassinations in fiction
- List of films featuring home invasions
- List of films with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
- Suddenly at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Selby (1984), p.184
- "Suddenly". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 24, 2016.
- Stafford, Jeff (ndg) "Suddenly (1954)" TCM.com
- Crowther, Bosley (October 8, 1954) "Film review: Suddenly". The New York Times
- Staff (January 1, 1954) "Suddenly" (review), Variety
- Silver and Ward (1982), p. 275
- Santopietro, Tom (November 11, 2008). Sinatra in Hollywood. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-36226-3.
- Muller, Eddie (April 8, 2018) Outro to the Turner Classic Movies presentation of Suddenly
- Suddenly (2013) on IMDb
- Suddenly at the Internet Archive.Retrieved 2013-11-24.
- Suddenly at AllMovie.
- Selby, Spencer (1984). Dark City: The Film Noir. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786404780.
- Silver, Alain & Ward, Elizabeth, eds. (1993). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press. ISBN 978-0879514792.
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