Suddenly (1954)
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 Suddenly (1954)

During this time of a hotly contested Presidential election, it is a perfect opportunity to consider some of the incredibly well-crafted movies with political themes. Fortunately, one of the best examples of the political thriller cast in the genre of film noir is getting a fresh release with the newly remastered high definition edition, ‘Suddenly.' Originally published in 1954 the movie may be over 60 years old, but its entertainment value greatly appreciated over the years. Although set in the United States directly after World War II, some of the political and cultural references are undoubted, dated. The significance of this film is in how these details may set a particular time and place, but they do not drive the themes of the movie. What drives this film is the insight provided into the psychological composition of the human mind. As a thriller, the movie sets up situations that would test the resolve of any reasonable man. When blended with film noir the audience experiences an exploration of some of the dark recesses working in our subconscious.

These aspects of the human condition are intrinsically unchanging. The external events that help shake them may change in the specifics of its manifestation may be modified by the particulars of the current time, but what is important; their inexorable influence on human behavior remains constant. This movie contains an extraordinary cast of actors that unfortunately may not be as impressive to modern audiences as it should be the appearance of these names on a theater marquee was guaranteed to generate ticket sales. Topping the bill was Frank Sinatra, commonly known as ‘Old Blue Eyes.' During the peak of his popularity, he was one of the most popular entertainers in the world. His appearances as a singer would instantly sell out. His nightclub back helps make Las Vegas the venue for top talent that continues to today. The commonly believed conjecture at the time was Mr. Sinatra’s career was assisted by powerful men suspected of having ties to organized crime. Regardless of what brought him to film many of his performances are staggering in their intensity. His portrayal in this film of a hardened, professional assassin is frightening in its realism and its ability to incite the primitive fear center of your brain. American actor, Sterling Hayden had a long and illustrious career dominated by leading man roles primarily in residence and film noir mysteries. The other A-list name on the billing is Jackie Gleason. While primarily known as a comedian and one of the founders of the television stables, the variety show, and sitcom, like degrees and frequently distinguish himself as an accomplished dramatic actor. Today this situation remains true. It appears that, and an increasing number of established comedians have undertaken the migration of intensely dramatic roles. This situation is still found in both film and television, a comedian moving towards dramic roles tend to be more successiful than dramatic actors attempting comedy.

To bolster the postwar feeling of national pride, the President of the United States is making personal appearances in California. The route to his next rally would take the Presidential entourage through the small town of Suddenly, California. Before the arrival of the Presidential train a group of men visits the home of the Benson family consisting of Pop Benson (Jackie Gleason), his daughter-in-law, Ellen (Nancy Gates) and his grandson, Peter (Kim Charney), commonly referred to as ‘Pidge.' Their home has a unique distinction in the town; it resides on top of the hill with direct line of sight to the train station where the President will appear. It is crucial to consider this plot point within its historical context. Before the proliferation of television, and the construction of transcontinental highways, many politicians utilized railroad system to travel from one town to another. Using the extensive railway system running throughout the country, the politician, and his staff would use a private train to travel from one event to the next. As a standard practice, it became known as whistle-stop campaigning. The use of this mode of transportation for a sitting President to visit his constituents would be entirely natural to the audiences of the mid-50s. The Benson family soon discovers that the group of were not the advanced government team of agents as they have claimed. In reality, there a team of highly paid hitmen hired to assassinate the President. The merciless leader of the team of assassins is John Baron (Frank Sinatra), a hardened, sociopathic killer. He can snuff out a human life with less concern than an average person disposing of a used Kleenex in the trash. Baron and his pair of lackeys forcibly take the hapless family hostage.

Ellen has lost her husband during the war, and as such is vehemently opposed to Pidge even playing with a toy gun. Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) had seen the boy admiring one in a toy store window and asked what he wanted to do with the weapon. His response was unusual for that time in American history. Rather than being a soldier and killing enemies of the country, Pidge wanted to be a sheriff when he grew up and use the gun to capture criminals. Impressed and somewhat flattered by the response. Sheriff Shaw buys the toy for the boy is a present. But his mother comes to gather him at the toy store. She is quite upset over the gift. A necessary part of most films to establish the moral standing of the characters. In a film noir is crucial to provide the foundation of moral ambiguity that is a defining characteristic of the genre.

At the train station, the sheriff greets a group of Secret Service agents that have just arrived to secure the location for the President’s detail. As a result of its vantage point, the Benson home was a natural security concern, prompting a visit by the sheriff and Secret Service agent. Shortly after they arrive, they are ambushed by the gangsters shoot Agent Carney and wound Sheriff fracturing his arm. Sheriff Shaw joins the three members of the Benson family as hostages. Baron’s insidious plan is to use a window in the Benson home as a place to set up a powerful sniper rifle assassinating the President as soon as he steps into view. Despite the fact that the living room is adequately roomy the inherent tension of the situation that as it intensifies induces an escalating sense of claustrophobia. In ‘Twelve Angry Men,' Sidney Lumet achieved this effect by means of his mastery of camera lens and how he incorporated it into his distinctive directorial style. In contrast, Lewis Allen employs a different methodology substituting a mastery of pacing and an amazing control over the revelation of the exposition to illicit a feeling of progressive claustrophobia to the viewers. The use of this procedure pulls the audience into the room with the Benson family able to relate to the overwhelming terror induced by proximity to a psychopath like John Baron.

The near perfection of this film heavily relied on the exceptional talent displayed by Mr. Sinatra. It might appear odd that a man who attained such universal notoriety as a crooner should also possess such an extraordinary talent a dramatic actor, but this film remains as a testament to this undeniable fact. Mr. Sinatra had an innate ability to discern the deepest motivations of his character channeling that comprises the human condition. Hem to the audience, connecting them to the most primitive emotions and deeply ingrained psychological impulses. It is this visceral reaction prompted by physiological and emotional manipulation that ensures this film a timeless position as a masterpiece.

This latest release is from ‘The Film Detective’ collection hand has been fully restored from archived 35mm stock back to the original theatrical aspect ratio. The film had fallen into public dolman resulting in a plethora of substandard editions. Many contain terribly scratched video and muddled audio, an unforgivable tragedy for a film of this caliber. There are even releases committing such travesties as colorizing the movie to altering the aspect ratio to ‘fit your screen’. One example of heinous mistreatment was time compression shortening the running time and destroying the maliciously planed pacing. If you have any of these copies in your collection show respect to the artistry and immediately replace them with this edition. To make certain you have the correct copy the UPC is 191091180020, accept nothing else.

Posted 10/17/2016

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