VOD film review: Sudden Fear
James R | On 16, Nov 2019
Director: David Miller
Cast: Jack Palance, Gloria Graham, Joan Crawford
Watch Sudden Fear online in the UK: Amazon Prime
What if the femme fatale was actually the hero? That’s the lip-smacking question at the heart of Sudden Fear, a subversive, thrilling film noir from the genre’s heyday.
Joan Crawford plays Myra Hudson, a successful playwright who crosses paths with actor Lester Blaine (Palance) after not casting him in her new production. They fall in love and marry. But while this starts off as a sweet 1950s romance, Sudden Fear takes a dramatic lurch at the end of the first act and we discover that Lester doesn’t really love her at all: he’s scheming with Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame), an old flame, to get his hands on the money pledged to him in Myra’s will.
What follows is something rare in cinema: a complex, cunning woman calculating revenge against another complex, cunning woman, with a bloke caught in the middle. Gloria Grahame is clearly having a ball – infectiously so – as the villainous Irene, while Palance is superbly slimy as the cuckoo husband. But this is Joan Crawford’s show and she bosses it like nobody’s business, swinging from swooning to seething over the course of an arc that keeps on giving. Watching her hide her anger beneath false happiness is a treat, especially as she begins to plot her response, which is topped only by seeing the other characters trying to guess from her chameleonic facial expressions whether she’s on to them or not.
David Miller presents the whole thing at a rollicking pace, never missing an opportunity to echo the rollercoaster plot with the undulating hills of San Francisco, which pitch suddenly down into darkness just when you thinking the panoramic views are perfect. Charles B. Lang Jr.’s cinematography brings a glossy sheen to the affair, but also finds suspense in the shadows lurking round every bend and alley. The result is a stylish and gripping psychological thriller that, like all good noirs, rewards twisted morals with just deserts, but challenges us to cheer on someone who, in another movie, could be the villain in her own right. A glorious piece of pitch-black cinema.
Sudden Fear is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.