Saturday, December 31, 2005

SUDDENLY (1954) - Lewis Allen

For the last film noir in the “Film Noir Final Four” series (and the last VHS movie I’m watching for this blog I might add), I have to admit I made a goof. After a complete screening (rather than just reading the write-up on IMDB), Suddenly cannot truly be called a film noir. Sure, it was shot on film in black and white and contains a pack of bad, bad men plotting nasty, nasty things. Yet the movie’s outlook in the end is all roses, too black or white in its depictions of its characters and their heroics (no one in a real noir is truly heroic), and too TV bland in its shooting style to feel like the noir I know and love.
But the setup is still intriguing and keeps you relatively engaged. Sterling Hayden (The Killing) is on the other side of the law this time playing a honest local sheriff in the sleepy small town of Suddenly. He has a courtly relationship with a fetching young widow and her son in a town where the only guns fired recently are the cap guns sold in the local toy store. So why do they call it Suddenly when everything in town happens at a snail’s pace? Probably because some screenwriter thought it would be a nifty idea.
Admittedly, things spice up once the Secret Service arrives in town and alert the sheriff that President himself will be making a stopover on a local train headed to Los Angeles. But what the sheriff doesn’t know is that a crew of contract killers headed up by old blue-eyes Frank Sinatra has already set their sights on the little house with the white picket fence overlooking the train tracks, the perfect rifle-shot vantage point. There’s an assassination attempt brewing…and guess who lives in that little house on the hill.
Old Frank is great in the bad guy role, milking his uncaring Korean War vet contract killer for all it’s worth. The script is not half bad, apart from a few way-too-convenient occurrences toward the end. But it’s director Lewis Allen who sabotages the film, keeping it from becoming a great flick. When he’s not using flat TV framings or prompting stiff line readings from otherwise capable actors, he's having Sinatra talk directly into camera. Sorry, but “the fourth wall” is not made to be broken willy-nilly. Perhaps by Ferris Bueller, but not by B-Movie thrillers that also ask for your credulity of a very far-fetched plot.

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