Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 21, 2020)
With 1952ís Sudden Fear, we find a film noir that stars Joan Crawford. Actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) gets the lead in a new play by famous writer Myra Hudson (Crawford). However, she eventually fires him because she feels he doesnít look ďromantic enoughĒ for the part.
This leaves Lester spurned and angry, but emotions appear to change not too long after his dismissal. On a train ride across country, Lester woos Myra and before long, he convinces her to marry him.
All seems well Ė until Lesterís lover Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame) winds up in town. She reconnects with Lester and the pair plot Myraís demise so he can inherit her fortune. Myra discovers this scheme and contends with its ramifications.
Like most of my generation, my primary acquaintance with Crawford comes via her terrible parental reputation as told in the campy biopic Mommie Dearest. Via this site, Iíve seen a few of Crawfordís films over the years, but I admit I still donít have great feel for her screen work.
Sudden Fear adds to that education, and it does so in a way that contrasts with my last Crawford experience: 1954ís Johnny Guitar, a Blu-ray I viewed a couple months before I got Fear. Of the two, Guitar presents a superior effort, especially in terms of Crawfordís acting.
In Guitar, Crawford plays the tough as nails proprietor of a Western saloon who battles off opponents. Thatís a far cry from Myra, a role who turns awfully clingy and needy.
Those traits donít seem to fit Crawford, as she fares better when she portrays a more take-charge character. Too much of Fear forces Crawford to seem passive and like a victim, and the actor doesnít really match those traits. When asked to look lovestruck, Crawford seems more psychotic than anything else.
Palance seems better suited for his role, as he connects well with the slippery Lester. He manages to convince us that Lester cares for Myra but he also adds shifts to the character when those become appropriate. Palance pulls off the partís dimensions well.
In terms of story, Fear struggles to fill its 110 minutes and might work better at a shorter length. In particular, we find ourselves stuck with endless shots of Myra as she stews and worries.
We get that her relationship with Lester causes her angst, but the film sticks us with too much material that intends to depict her inner concerns, and these scenes create a real drag on the proceedings.
In addition, Fear suffers from a narrative that lacks logic. When Myra finds out about Lesterís murderous plans, she pursues her own methods to contend with him and to foil these actions.
Which begs the question: why not go to the police? Myra possesses concrete evidence of Lesterís plans, so why play games with him? Iíd think sheíd want to get law enforcement involved and end the threat immediately.
Of course, if that occurred, we wouldnít have much of a movie, and despite the amount of credulity stretched, the second half of Fear manages reasonable intrigue. That segment of the film allows Crawford to make Myra more dynamic, a factor that partly negates her prior passivity.
But itís not quite enough. The combination of a far-fetched plot and an often awkward performance by Crawford causes more damage to Sudden Fear than the film can overcome. While this thriller offers moderate entertainment, it fails to engage on a consistent basis.