Take 3: Suddenly (1954) Review

Movies that take place over a 24 Hour time frame (not including time loop movies) are the chosen subject for August’s Genre Grandeur. Since this theme is so broad, I needed to do some research before choosing my contribution. While reading through a list on Wikipedia, I came across the 1954 title, Suddenly. I have heard of this movie because it was recommended by Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. Last year, I reviewed five of Frank Sinatra’s movies. While most of the movies I’ve seen were either a comedy or musical, Ocean’s Eleven was the only one that was dramatic in tone. This makes Suddenly a unique project in Frank Sinatra’s filmography. Movies from the Film-Noir genre have also been far and few between on my blog. So, I’m hoping this review makes up for that!

Suddenly (1954) poster created by Libra Productions and United Artists

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: In Frank Sinatra’s movies I’ve seen so far, he was given roles that allow him to achieve likability. This is made possible through a charismatic personality. While Frank’s character in Suddenly, John Baron, carries himself with suave charisma, he is not someone the audience wants to root for. In fact, this part of John’s personality can make viewers uncomfortable. That’s because, as the movie poster says, he is “a savage, sensation-hungry killer”. The darker material is different from what I’ve seen from Frank’s filmography, so far. However, Frank gave a strong performance that really showcased his range as an actor! While he carried his character with the charisma he has portrayed in other films, he was quick to adopt anger. Whenever someone gave him an insult, John immediately grew intense with rage. It not only showed how John had an underlying instability, but also showed how Frank was like a chameleon with expressions and emotions. These elements help create a character that puts the audience on edge.

Despite being the only actress in Suddenly, Nancy Gates’ did a good job portraying her character, Ellen Benson! While watching this film, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Judy Garland’s acting abilities. This is because, like Judy, Nancy brought a gentleness to her role. Throughout the movie, Ellen always put others before herself. She tries to protect her son, Pidge, from a world she feels is too dangerous. That part of Ellen’s story gives Nancy an opportunity to bring genuine emotion to her role. Toward the beginning of the film, Ellen and Sheriff Tod Shaw, portrayed by Sterling Hayden, debate over her overprotective nature. When Tod brings up her deceased husband, Ellen is immediately moved to tears. James Gleason provides a good counterpart to Ellen Benson with his portrayal of her father, Peter Benson. In the film, he has a more easy-going, light-hearted personality. While I wouldn’t say he was the movie’s comic-relief, Peter did prevent the story from being too dark. Peter’s ability to adapt to any situation and his quick thinking give the audience peace of mind, as it shows he has a good head on his shoulders and will know what to do. It also helps that Peter was the glue that kept his family together.

The subject matter: I was not expecting Suddenly to contain the real-life subjects it did. But they provided a good insight into the views, beliefs, and issues within the time period of the movie’s release. Because the movie takes place in and premiered a decade after World War II, the characters discussed the negative impacts of war. John Baron’s part of the story kind of serves as a cautionary tale when it comes to a war’s psychological aftermath. As John’s plan starts to unravel, the Benson family and Tod accuse John of being “un-American”. This reflects the McCarthyism that primarily took place in the ‘50s.  United States history is also included in the story, with presidential assassination attempts brought up within the script. Tod argues these attempts were failures, because the perpetrators were not only caught, but also frowned upon in history. His insight into this particular subject is interesting, especially remembering what would happen a decade after the film’s release.

Film-Noir’s new setting: Whenever I think of the Film-Noir genre, I think of stories that take place either in big cities or shady places with a dark, ominous tone. With Suddenly, the story takes place in a small, suburban town. This type of location usually hosts stories that are light-hearted and matched with a happy ending. Suddenly’s pairing provided a good contradiction. It also expanded Film-Noir’s horizons, showing that movies from this genre can take place anywhere. It was a creative decision that was definitely thought outside the box!

Children holding American flags during a sunset image created by rawpixel.com at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People photo created by rawpixel.com – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

Some weak performances: While I liked the majority of the acting performances in Suddenly, there were a few that were weak. One of those performances came from Sterling Hayden. When his character was involved in police/serious matters, Sterling successfully carried his character with stoic confidence. But when it came to tender-hearted moments, like when Tod is asking Ellen on a date, Sterling appeared stiff and wooden. Another performance that was weak was Kim Charney’s. I know Kim was a young actor when portraying Pidge. However, Kim carried one expression and emotion throughout the movie, causing Pidge to appear one-dimensional. I am aware that performances from young actors or actresses can be hit or miss. But, for me, Kim’s performance was a miss.

Unclear story details: Suddenly is the type of story where the audience figures out what’s going on as the film progresses. However, there are some parts of the story that don’t receive clarification. When John reveals his plan, he says he is being paid to carry it out. But the audience never learns who this anonymous benefactor is or why John is being paid in the first place. When telling Ellen about his past, John says the “experts” removed the feeling out of him. The identities of these “experts” and the reason for removing John’s feelings are never revealed. The omission of these answers feels like the film’s creative team is intentionally withholding information from the audience.

A self-contained story: The film-noir genre typically shows characters doing what they want and going where they please. This reminds me of Cady’s quote from Mean Girls: “The limit does not exist”. But in Suddenly, the majority of the story takes place in the Benson family home, as John is holding the family hostage. That part causes the movie to feel stagnant and limited, which is the opposite of film-noir’s nature. It also doesn’t help when the movie’s conflict is drawn out for most of the story.

Diner image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/american-vintage-restaurant-hand-drawn_902205.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/food”>Food vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

When I think about Tod’s view on presidential assassination attempts, I am reminded of the Touched by An Angel episode, “Beautiful Dreamer”. The majority of the episode’s story revolves around the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, with John Wilkes Booth believing the act will make people see him as a hero. Instead, he is seen as not only a coward, but also one of the most hated people in history. I find it interesting that two different pieces of media from two different time periods share a similar belief. Suddenly also makes me think of the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, Foxfire. That’s because the 1954 film felt more like a play than a movie. During my viewing experience, I found myself picturing the Benson family home as a stage, with any event outside of the home taking place off-stage. With the story being self-contained, I honestly feel this production works better in that format. Suddenly provides good insight into parts of the 1950s, with the characters’ dialogue sounding authentic. I also liked seeing Frank Sinatra’s performance, as it shows just how far he can stretch his acting abilities.

Overall score: 6.3 out of 10

Have you seen any of Frank Sinatra’s film? If so, which one is your favorite? Tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

3 thoughts on “Take 3: Suddenly (1954) Review

  1. I’ve been wanting to see this one, Sally. You gave a great review and now I’m gonna push it up on my list! It’s always a treat seeing Sinatra in a dramatic role. I recently saw The Man with the Golden Arm – not an easy film to watch but he was excellent.

    By the way, I’m hosting my first blogathon and would love for you to join us if you’re interested.
    https://theclassicmoviemuse.wordpress.com/2021/08/15/announcing-the-bernard-herrmann-blogathon/

    Liked by 1 person

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