Suddenly

SUDDENLY showed skeptics that Frank Sinatra’s comeback Oscar win for his dramatic supporting role in From Here To Eternity wasn’t a one-shot. His next picture was this 1954 thriller where he not only knocks back drama but aces a bad guy role. His Chairmanship would go on to play a number of hardcase soldiers and cops, a heel (Pal Joey), a weasel (Johnny Concho), amiable crooks (Oceans Eleven, Robin And The 7 Hoods) and a convict (The Devil At 4 O’Clock) but the ice-blooded psychopathic killer in this tense little number was his only out & out villain. Hired to shoot the President, salivating to make the hit. *

The California burg of ‘Suddenly’ is so bucolic the locals jokingly dub it ‘Gradually’, and the only spark is the flickering hope the sheriff ‘Tod Shaw’ (Sterling Hayden) has that widow ‘Ellen Benson’ (Nancy Gates) might thaw and return his interest. Things perk up when word comes that a train carrying the U.S. President will make a surprise stop. The Secret Service arrives to scope the town, but Ellen’s vantage-point house gets another sudden visit: three men, led by ‘John Baron’ (Sinatra) posing as Feds but are really a team of assassins. They take Ellen and the sheriff (who they wound) hostage, along with Ellen’s little boy and her father. Trigger artist Baron is not inclined to mercy.

Hayden’s fine (at 6’5″ he towers over Frank) as is crusty veteran James Gleason as ‘Pop Benson’; Gates is on the bland side and little Kim Charney, 8, as the spunky ‘Pidge’ is a typical child actor of the period, as in, hard to take: he later became a surgeon, a wiser gig. But Frank clearly relishes a chance to let his id run dark and mean: he lights a fuse that burns through to the inevitable (and fairly exciting) showdown. Richard Sale wrote the screenplay off his own short story, published a decade earlier as “Active Duty”. Lewis Allen directed.

Reviews praised Sinatra’s work, box office revenue of $4,000,000 placed 80th for the year. A trim 77 minutes, with Paul Frees, Willis Bouchey, Christopher Dark, Paul Wexler (just terrible), John Beradino.

* At the time this was made, there had been six attempts to kill American Presidents. Three succeeded (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley), three foiled (Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Truman). A good while after JFK was murdered in 1963, an urban legend began making dogged rounds insisting Sinatra, who had famously hung out with the late leader, caused both Suddenly and 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate to be withdrawn from circulation. In the less-spooky realm of reality, Suddenly‘s copyright had simply lapsed into Public Domain and while The Manchurian Candidate went into hiding, that was not until in 1972, and for financial reasons, not political or ethical. The fiction still gets play, just like those asinine sex fibs about certain rock stars.

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