In the world of film noir, one can often find the happiest of marriages, with one half of the couple marrying for love, and the other half marrying for money. This, of course, can become quite a lethal combination, especially for the genre, and that’s no different here with the 1952 film Sudden Fear, starring one of noir’s more prominent leading ladies, Joan Crawford. But here, there’s an extra twist to the common noir plotline of killing a spouse for their wealth…
Acclaimed playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) is in the midst of rehearsals for her latest play when she decides the actor cast for the leading role, Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), is all wrong for the part because he doesn’t look like a romantic leading man, and has him fired. Weeks later, Myra’s play opens to huge success on Broadway, and as she travels back home to San Francisco, she runs into Lester, who sets out to prove her wrong by romancing her himself. Following a whirlwind courtship, the two marry and have a seemingly wonderful marriage… until Myra overhears Lester and his lover, Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame), plotting to murder her for her wealthy inheritance. Although heartbroken by the revelation, Myra pulls herself together and hatches a murderous plot of her own.
Along with taking on the film’s leading role, Joan Crawford also worked uncredited as an executive producer and writer, so she was heavily involved in all aspects of the production for Sudden Fear. As an executive producer, she personally hired the film’s director, David Miller, and the film’s screenwriter, Lenore J. Coffee. She also suggested Elmer Bernstein compose the film’s musical score and insisted Charles Lang be hired as the film’s cinematographer. And while they weren’t the first choices for their given roles, she also had a personal hand in casting Jack Palance and Gloria Grahame as her co-stars.
When one thinks of Jack Palance, the role of the romantic leading man isn’t the first character type to come to mind, so he has that in common with his character Lester Blaine, whom Myra doesn’t believe makes for a convincing romantic. But here, in only his third film role, Palance does an excellent job of displaying both his character’s romantic tendencies as well as his more sinister traits. While on the outset it might seem silly for Myra to fall so easily in love with Lester, it’s not too unbelievable to see how it could have happened as quickly as it does in the film. For his work in Sudden Fear, Palance received the first of his eventual three Oscar nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, with his second one for Shane coming just one year later, and his winning performance in City Slickers coming a few decades later in 1991.
Known for her sensual screen presence, Gloria Grahame is as good as you’d expect her to be as the other woman in Sudden Fear, playing a conniving character only interested in life’s greatest pleasures. The year of the film’s release, was a particularly big year for the actress, as she appeared in a couple of the biggest movies of 1952, including the year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, The Greatest Show on Earth, and the film for which she won her own Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, The Bad and the Beautiful. Grahame had previously been nominated in the same category in 1947 for her performance in Crossfire, another film noir.
Of course, Sudden Fear wouldn’t be the movie it is now without the work of the legendary Joan Crawford, who gives one of her best performances as Myra Hudson. Here she’s perfectly melodramatic without going too over the top and is very likable as the protagonist despite making hasty decisions. This film earned Crawford her third and final Oscar nomination for Best Actress, following nominations in the same category for 1947’s Possessed and 1945’s Mildred Pierce, the latter of which won her an Academy Award.
Sudden Fear is a superb, engaging film noir, especially for one that centers on a plot to kill a wealthy spouse. It’s filled with tense, edge-of-your-seat moments that leave you wondering who between the husband and wife will succeed in getting rid of the other. If anything, it’s another great film noir that exemplifies just how dangerous marriage can be.
I wrote this entry as a part of the ‘Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon, where bloggers are writing about other loving marriages like this found in films. Click the banner below to read more great posts!