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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Suddenly (1954)



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After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Frank Sinatra was deeply disturbed at the reports that Lee Harvey Oswald may have watched this film mere days before the assassination. Consequently, he had this pulled from circulation for a great many years. So the story goes, this was his reason for pulling The Manchurian Candidate out of circulation as well, but a financial disagreement with United Artists may have had more to do with it.

In 1954, the assassination of a U.S. President was considered highly unlikely. It had happened before, of course, but modern security practices and technology were surely sufficient, right? America would soon discover otherwise. Today, it's probably as difficult as it's ever been, but we know enough not to grow lax in comfort. Consequently, the laxness with which security precautions are taken in Suddenly doubtless seems unrealistic, if not laughably so. But the film is a window into the past: if not to the reality of the past, then to the perceptions of the public of the day.

If you can, as this film of another time deserves, accept the unfamiliar depiction of security, then Suddenly becomes a tense, effective thriller. Frank Sinatra plays a hired gun, and when he holes up in a strategically positioned home, awaiting the arrival of the President on a train, we learn that there is a lot more to him than just a generic gangster character. His performance is chilling.

Most of the action takes place in said home. With some rewriting, this could become an effective stage play. The script is a smart one. The game is something akin to chess, where each side attempts to outwit the other with moves made in plain sight. Co-star James Gleason is nearly a scene-stealer. The one weak link is Sterling Hayden, whose performance is wooden, but this is hardly enough to damage the film.