Suddenly (1954 film)

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Suddenly (1954 movie poster).jpg
theaterical release poster
Directed byLewis Allen
Produced byRobert Bassler
Screenplay byRichard Sale
Based onActive Duty
(1943 story in Blue Book (magazine))
by Richard Sale
StarringFrank Sinatra
Sterling Hayden
Music byDavid Raksin
CinematographyCharles G. Clarke
Edited byJohn F. Schreyer
Libra Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • October 7, 1954 (1954-10-07) (US)
Running time
75 or 77 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States

Suddenly is a 1954 American film noir[2] crime film directed by Lewis Allen with a screenplay written by Richard Sale.[3] The drama stars Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden, and features James Gleason and Nancy Gates, among others.[1]

The story concerns a small California town whose tranquility is shattered when the train of the President of the United States is scheduled to pass through the town, and a hired assassin and his henchmen take over a home as a perfect location to assassinate the president.


In post-war America the President of the United States is scheduled to journey through the small town of Suddenly, California. Claiming to be checking up on security prior to his arrival, a group of FBI agents arrive at the home of the Bensons, on top of a hill that looks down upon the station where the presidential train is scheduled to stop. However, they soon turn out to be assassins led by the ruthless John Baron (Frank Sinatra), who take over the house and hold the family hostage.

Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) arrives with Dan Carney (Willis Bouchey), a Secret Service agent in charge of the president's security detail. When he does, Baron and his gangsters shoot Carney and a bullet fractures Shaw's arm.

Baron sends one of his two henchmen to double-check on the president's schedule but he is killed in a shootout with the police. Jud (James O'Hara), a television repairman, shows up at the house and also becomes a hostage. Pidge (Kim Charney) goes to his grandfather's dresser to fetch some medication and notices a fully loaded revolver which he replaces with his toy cap gun.

Baron is confronted by the sheriff on the risks and meaning of killing the President and Baron's remaining henchman begins showing some reluctance. 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 – who and why he kills being of little importance to him.

A sniper's rifle has been mounted on a metal table by a window. Jud discreetly hooks the table up to the 5000-volt plate output of the family television. Pop Benson (James Gleason) then 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, his remaining henchman 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 kills Jud, disconnects the electrical hook-up and aims the rifle as the President's train arrives at the station, but to his surprise it passes straight through (the stop having been cancelled). Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates) shoots Baron in the abdomen and Shaw shoots him again. Baron's dying words are: "No…don't…no…please no…no…no…"



Cast notes[edit]

  • Suddenly marked the first time that Frank Sinatra had played a "heavy" in a dramatic film.[4]
  • 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 got the 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.[4] 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,[1] 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.[1]

The production company, Libra Productions, was producer Robert Brassler's company, and Suddenly was his first independent film. Previously, Brassler had worked for Twentieth Century Fox.[1]

Sterling Hayden as Sheriff Tod Shaw


Critical response[edit]

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."[5]

The staff reviewer at Variety magazine also gave the film a good review and praised the acting. They 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."[6]

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."[4]

Film critic Carl Mazek 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).[7] Moreover, he wrote in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style:

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 [1955]....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.[4]

Frank Sinatra as John Baron berating a hostage



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.[4]

Sinatra asked United Artists to withdraw the film from circulation because he heard the rumor that Lee Harvey Oswald had seen it prior to shooting President Kennedy.[8][4] According to Hollywood legend, Sinatra bought up all remaining copies of Suddenly and had them destroyed, but this was not true.[9] Sinatra also supposedly wanted The Manchurian Candidate – of which he was a producer – withdrawn after the assassination, but its disappearance was actually caused by its having completed a normal film release schedule.[1][9]

A remake of Suddenly, starring Dominic Purcell and directed by Uwe Boll, was released in 2013.[10]

Loss of copyright[edit]

The film's copyright was not renewed and it entered the public domain; it can be downloaded and viewed for free online.[11] 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.[12] 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 & white film.[13]

Serge Bromberg, a film preservationist based in Paris, completely restored the film from a camera negative for Lobster Films, which released it in 2018. This version was shown on Turner Classic Movies on April 8, 2018.[14][15]

Stage adaptation[edit]

In May 2018, Live Source Theatre Group announced that they will present a stage adaptation of Suddenly in New York City in the Fall. It will have a script by Gianfranco Settecasi, based on the screenplay by Richard Sale, with direction by Tyler Mercer. It is scheduled to begin performances in October.[16]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f Suddenly at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ Selby (1984), p.184
  3. ^ "Suddenly". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 24, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Stafford, Jeff (ndg) "Suddenly (1954)"
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley (October 8, 1954) "Film review: Suddenly". The New York Times
  6. ^ Staff (January 1, 1954) "Suddenly" (review), Variety
  7. ^ Silver and Ward (1982), p.275
  8. ^ Santopietro, Tom (November 11, 2008). Sinatra in Hollywood. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-36226-3.
  9. ^ a b Muller, Eddie (April 8, 2018) Outro to the Turner Classic Movies presentation of Suddenly
  10. ^ Suddenly (2013) on IMDb
  11. ^ Suddenly on the Internet Archive.Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  12. ^ Suddenly at AllMovie.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Muller, Eddie (April 8, 2018) Intro to the Turner Classic Movies presentation of Suddenly
  15. ^ "Editions: New Releases 2018" Lobster Films website
  16. ^ Staff (May 10, 2018) "Live Source Theatre Group Presents the World Premiere of 'Suddenly' at HERE this Fall" Broadway World


External links[edit]