Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Assassination Week Pt. 2: Suddenly

Suddenly (Lewis Allen, 1954)

Before Frank Sinatra was trying to foil an assassination attempt in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), he was intent on knocking off the Commander in Chief in Suddenly. As John Baron, Sinatra brings death to the little down of Suddenly, California. It’s a sleepy little city where things happy so slowly that the city council’s thinking of changing the name to “Gradually.”

Something big finally happens in Suddenly when the Treasury Department shows up to lay the groundwork for an appearance by the President. It’s up to local Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) to make sure the town’s locked up tight and free from “subversive elements.” Things get so wild in Suddenly that Shaw’s deputy has to ask, “What in Hades is going on in this burg? Did some galoot make a uranium strike?”

All roads lead to the house of Pop Benson (James Gleason), the perfect vantage point for gunning down the President and the residence of Shaw’s gal pal Ellen (Nancy Gates) and her son, Pidge (Kim Charney). A precursor to William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours, Baron and his pair of thugs take Shaw, the Benson clan, and their television repairman hostage as the train carrying the President chugs closer. The rest of the film becomes a taut melodrama with Baron and Shaw verbally sparring about patriotism, soldiering, and the Power of the Gun.

“I’ve got no feelings against the President... He’s just a half a million bucks to me, tax free,” says Baron. Hot off of From Here to Eternity, Sinatra delivers a tour de force performance as the psychopathic Baron. Director Lewis Allen gives Sinatra ample opportunity to display his talent including allowing the actor to address the camera directly as he describes his deluded dreams for the future. The screenplay by Richard Sale provides excellent material for Sinatra and Hayden. Seeing these two titans square off is a treat.

Long in the public domain, Suddenly is readily available on cheap DVDs or for free download on sites like http://www.archive.org.

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