Entire family: No
1954, 75 min., Black-and-white
Not rated (would be PG for violence and adult situations)
Aspect ratio: 1.75:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: n/a
A year before Frank Sinatra would play the better-known hoodlum Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls and a year after he impressed audiences with his Oscar-winning performance as Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity, Old Blue Eyes was convincingly crazy-eyed as a war-hero-turned-criminal in the 1954 film Suddenly.
If you remove the hokum—the overly obvious and period-wholesome nonsense that frames the main narrative and reminds you a bit of The Andy Griffith Show—Suddenly is a taut thriller in the Key Largo mold, with hoods taking over a family residence (in this case a private one, rather than a hotel).
Fans of Dr. Strangelove will delight in seeing Sterling Hayden playing a small-town cop with the same earnest officiousness as he did crazed base commander Jack D. Ripper in the Kubrick black comedy, and viewers get a full dose of him in an opening sequence that couldn’t be more expositional. In that beginning, we’re told he’s in love with a woman (Nancy Gates as Ellen Benson) whose husband was killed fighting in WWII, and that he believes she’s overprotective of her young son “Pidge” (Kim Charney). Sheriff Tod Shaw also has plenty to be officious about. He gets word that the President of the United States will get off the train and take a motorcade somewhere, and the town has to be checked out and protected by Secret Service agents, with his cooperation.
Coincidence is commonplace in Hollywood films from this era, so audiences wouldn’t have blinked to learn that the former boss of Secret Service agent Dan Carney (Willis Bouchey) is “Pop” Benson (James Gleason), who is retired and lives in the house on a hill overlooking the train station—a place that he personally goes to check out and secure.
Though Suddenly isn’t as powerful a film as Key Largo (1948), it’s equally tense. And Sinatra is fully convincing as John Baron, who earlier showed up at the house with two thugs, pretending to be FBI agents needing to secure that house for the President’s visit. Instead, they plan to assassinate the President. The audience knows that early on, but writer Richard Sale does a good job of creating a believable situation with effective dialogue and a tension that, along with Lewis Allen’s capable direction, makes Suddenly worth watching.
Hi-Def fans need to be warned, though, that the film is in the public domain and this Film Detective release features an awful lot of noise—scintillating grain—that’s an obvious result of the digital transfer. Visually, it takes some getting used to. The trailer is from an out-of-print Blu-ray release, while the screen shot is from studio publicity. In both cases, the image is sharper than it is on this Film Detective transfer.
Violence: People are shot and killed, but there’s minimal blood and it’s deemphasized because of the black-and-white film stock
Adult situations: The boy is in jeopardy and slapped around, which, for younger viewers, is the most relevant aspect of the siege, and of course the assassination theme eliminates really young viewers
Takeaway: As singers-turned-actors go, Sinatra really held his own