A Filmmaker's Review: "Sudden Fear" (1952)
3.5/5 - Joan Crawford's input is incredible...
“Sudden Fear” is a film that has its ups and downs, it isn’t perfect and yet it isn’t entirely bad. After the film, I sat and thought for a while about what I could write about the film without giving away too much information and now, I think I’ve found that I can do that. So, there will be no spoilers here and if you really want to see the film then please go ahead. This however, is going to be a mixed review with an on-edge quality for I am still slightly confused about how I am supposed to feel about this movie.
This film is about a woman who is a famous playwright and fires the romantic lead because he isn’t romantic enough. When she gets on a train bound for San Francisco, she meets the man she fired who has apparently forgiven her after his strange outburst in the rehearsals some days before. They begin a romantic melodrama together and when her will comes into question - well, you know the story. But then again, no you don’t, because this man is already married. He is married to a woman called Irene. Everything spins out of control and everyone double-crosses everyone else. It’s like a melodrama wrapped in a mystery and it makes for excellent psycho-drama viewing. But the way in which it is brought to us offers some problems. But let’s start off on a good note.
First of all, the best thing about the movie is obviously one of the greatest actresses of all time doing her classic paranoia role - Joan Crawford. Her acting is the one thing in this film that cannot be faulted. It is an excellent exploration of the progression of paranoia and she is brilliant at this role. I think she was cast very much correctly but the only problem was that Joan Crawford’s great acting seemed to outshine everyone else in the movie.
Another thing that I thought was great in the movie was the way in which the director used scenery, panoramic and long shots. The views were extraordinary and the way in which the audience sees the progression of paranoia is also lined up with these places getting smaller and smaller throughout the film. Not only do the panoramic shots stop but the house shots also become smaller and smaller until Joan Crawford’s character is literally in a coat closet.
When we come to the climactic finale of the film, there are a number of long street shots which are effective yes, but I think that the ending itself is very much coincidental rather than actually well-constructed. The way in which the film comes to its finale (which I will not reveal in plot details because this is to remain without spoilers) is not something to be proud of. Yes, the ‘chase finale’ prototype is very tense and it changes the pace of the entire film, but I think that the way in which this film does it didn’t really make me tense, it didn’t put me on-edge. What it did do is put me on-edge about how I was going to explain this without revealing what happened.
Well, all in all, this film has some great performances, Joan Crawford basically outshining everyone including Jack Palance. I believe that the dialogue of the characters seems to give us the best insight into the characters and why they are doing what they are doing. The way in which we see the facial expressions and actions of the characters make us see the realities of what is happening and especially the way in which Joan Crawford looks at the other characters gets increasingly paranoid, increasingly tense and increasingly dramatic throughout the film and mixed with her random screaming it creates a much better atmosphere than the scenes in which she is actually not there. The part where she is hiding in a coat closet is one of my favourite scenes because it is the only time represented in which we see her actually make an effort to stay quiet when she clearly feels like screaming her head off. All in all, she really does make the movie what it is though there are things in the movie that could’ve been polished up more.