A little bit of Joan Crawford goes a long way for me but this is nonetheless a very effective thriller.
Myra Hudson (Joad Crawford) is a celebrated playwright in addition to being an independently wealthy heiress. She goes to a rehearsal of her latest play and judges that the leading man Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is not “romantic” enough. She has the clout to get him fired even though the director and producer think he is wonderful in the role.
The play, naturally, is a smash hit and Myrna heads back to her home town of San Francisco soon after the opening. She needs to relax so she takes the train. Lester just happens to be taking the same train. She spots him in Buffalo and soon they are playing cards and flirting with each other. By the time they reach San Francisco she has clearly changed her mind as to how “romantic” he is. They are married soon after.
After they return from their honeymoon, Myra throws a big party to introduce Lester to her friends. One of the guests is the son of her lawyer and he brings his latest flame, Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame). It turns out Lester knew Irene very, very well in the past. Soon they are seeing each other behind Myra’s back.
Irene happens upon a draft will drawn up by Myra’s lawyer that leaves Lester only $10,000 a year to be withdrawn on his remarriage. The couple decides that Myra must go before she can sign the will. But, unbeknownst to them, their conversation has been recorded on Myra’s automatic dictating machine and Myra is on to them. The rest of the film is a mostly dialogue-free telling of Myra’s heartbreak, revenge plan, and fearful encounter with Lester. With Mike Connors in his debut as the lawyer’s son.
The first part of the film is pretty standard melodrama sparked up by the always enjoyable Palance and Grahame. Then the film goes into high gear and it is one wild ride to the end. Crawford does a lot of acting with her eyebrows, but it seems appropriate this time given the panic she is in. This is a handsome looking film and well worth seeing at least once.
Sudden Fear was nominated for Oscars in the categories of Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor (Palance), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.