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U.S., 1952
Directed by David Miller
Starring Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame
Screenplay by Lenore J. Coffee, Robert Smith
Approx. 110 min. DCP.

Sure Jack Palance is steamed when heiress/playwright Joan Crawford cans him from the leading role in her latest drama. But after its triumphant premiere, who’s her surprise fellow passenger on her train trip back to San Francisco? Looks like it’s smooth sailing for a whirlwind romance, but then the twists start coming: the cliffside getaway with that twisting, railing-less path; Joan’s lawyer’s big brainstorm, a new will; the voice-activated recording system; and conniving ex-girlfriend Gloria Grahame — but then Joan’s got a plot of her own. Four Oscar nominations, for: Sheila O’Brien’s costume design; Charles Lang’s photography, with highly-atmospheric San Francisco location shooting; Crawford, switching from no-nonsense star dramatist to swooning romantic to knuckle-chewing hysteric to hard-eyed revenge-seeker; and Palance, in only his third film, exuding both charm and menace, never more resembling a creepily smiling frog — his gunfighter killer in Shane was next. “Imagine the indignity for a star of Crawford’s magnitude playing a woman whose husband wants to kill her for her money so he can cohabit with his sexy young accomplice. Yet to hold on to her career, Crawford knew it was the kind of role she had no choice but to accept, and accept it she did, giving the performance of her career….  In this gorgeous, drop-dead star vehicle, constructed as a tribute to its star’s indomitability, Joan Crawford, conqueror and survivor, offers a consummate version of her Kabuki-mask style, honed during her apprentice years in silent pictures… Crawford’s (Oscar-nominated) performance is a symphony of carefully orchestrated reaction shots which “indicate” primary emotions such as terror, surprise, high anxiety, sudden fear. This is not the Method, to be sure, it is external, Delsartian acting in which gestures signify specific emotions. Crawford, however, elevates the style to the level of genuine film artistry.” – Foster Hirsch


“AN UNDERSEEN CLASSIC WAITING TO BE REDISCOVERED! Like many underrecognized treasures, David Miller’s SUDDEN FEAR fits into and defies different genres, its convention-scrambling partly the result of the fact that the film looks both forward and back...With its felicitously chosen San Francisco locations (including the Legion of Honor), SUDDEN FEAR anticipates the more hallucinatory VERTIGO… With the arrival of [co-star Gloria] Grahame, then in the ascendant phase of her career, the pleasures of SUDDEN FEAR multiply further as a study of contrasting approaches to Golden Age screen acting. In the words of unimpeachable critic and Grahame acolyte Boyd McDonald, the actress had ‘the sullen, bored walk and talk of someone who can't be shocked, isn’t afraid, and just doesn't give a shit.’ Watching Crawford, however, we are transfixed by the intensity of her labor (and that of the five people credited with overseeing her hair, makeup, and costuming): In several reaction shots, her face becomes a gutting tableau of horror, hurt, and humiliation.”
– Melissa Anderson, The Village Voice

“SUDDEN FEAR was always a film that required you to surrender to its high pitch, even around the time of its release. When François Truffaut saw it, he wrote: ‘If the audience laughs when it is not suitable to do so, I take that as a sign of daring, of finish. The public has lost the habit of intensity.’ His review rambles over his entire philosophy of cinema, but when he circles back to SUDDEN FEAR, Truffaut says that outside of two dream sequences, ‘there is not a shot in this film that isn’t necessary to its dramatic progression. Not a shot, either, that isn’t fascinating and doesn’t make us think it’s a masterpiece of cinema.’ Crawford, he adds, is “a question of taste.’ For my taste, she’s brilliant, and so is SUDDEN FEAR.”
– Farran Smith Nehme, Film Comment

“MAGNIFICENT AND NIGHTMARISH! ONE OF CRAWFORD’S FINEST PERFORMANCES…A TOUR DE FORCE! None of [Crawford’s performance] is ‘over-the-top.’ None of this is ‘campy.’ It is world-class acting, period.”
– Sheila O’Malley,

Time Out (New York)

“A viewer not entirely a slave to Miss Crawford's brand of histrionics might argue that an excessive amount of footage is given to close-ups of the lady in the throes of mental traumas and other emotional disturbances. In general, however, she behaves in a convincing manner since, after all, she is involved with a homicidal husband.”
The New York Times

“A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE! HUGELY ENJOYABLE! Suspense screwed way beyond the sticking point, superb camerawork from Charles Lang, and Crawford in nerve-janglingly extravagant form.”
– Tom Milne, Time Out (London)

Film Forum