• Suddenly



    Released by: Image Entertainment
    Released on: 12/5/2012
    Director: Lewis Allen
    Cast: Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason, Nancy Gates
    Year: 1954
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    The Movie:

    The sleepy little town of Suddenly, California is unknowingly expecting a special visitor to stop in town on an unscheduled train stop. The (unnamed) President of the United States is passing through town and will be departing the train, loading into a car, and off to the next destination, and town sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) is tasked with ensuring the President rolls through town unnoticed and without incident. When the Secret Service shows up to check the place out, the sheriff starts asking questions about the odd security measures and its revealed that they have it on good authority an assassin may be trying his luck with taking the President out right there in Suddenly.

    More is on the mind of Sheriff Tod though, namely gaining the affections of one widow Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates), who lost her husband in the war three years prior (must have been the Korean War) and is left with her little boy “Pidge” (Kim Charney). Try as Tod does, she refuses his declaration of love for her and can’t let go of her husband and move on. She’s still mourning and is terrified of allowing her boy to be a boy, sheltering him from such things as war movies and toy guns. The boys call him a sissy, for Pete’s sake.

    Also arriving in Suddenly, unbeknowst to the Secret Service men, is FBI agent John Baron (Frank Sinatra). He pays a visit to the home on the hill overlooking the train station where Ellen lives in with her son and father-in-law Pop Benson (James Gleason), a retired Secret Service agent himself, and personal bodyguard to President Calvin Coolidge. Something about Baron doesn’t sit well with the old government agent, and he wonders if perhaps Baron and his two cronies are up to something. Before long the truth comes out; Baron isn’t a G-Man, but is actually the would-be assassin the authorities are on the watch for. Baron decides the window in the living room is the perfect place for a sniper’s nest and he gets his buddies working on it while he makes threats and runs the show. Quickly his plans are forced to change and it becomes a hostage situation as he holds the family and a couple of other people captive in the house until 5 PM, the precise time the train is expected to stop.

    Short on running time at just an hour and fifteen minutes, it plugs right along at a good pace. It’s pretty predictable and minus any real surprises, but it’s an engaging movie, no doubt about it. It’s great to see Sinatra right on the heels of his Oscar for From Here To Eternity, and even better to see him playing a bad guy. Cold, emotionless other than his deep-seeded anger, and a real bastard. A true sociopath before the term was coined. James Gleason as Pops is incredibly likeable and is really strong here. His interaction with Sinatra has a great edge to it, a lawman caught in a situation where he’s too old to kick some ass. Sterling Hayden seems wooden as the sheriff, but that could be attributed to the style of film acting in the early 50s, as Nancy Gates seems to be in the same club. They’re dialog is delivered pretty stiffly, especially in the moments they’re alone with no one else to balance them out. Sinatra and Gleason carry the film and keep it interesting.

    What also makes the film enjoyable is the setting. It appears to not be a back lot set, but a real town as you can see life carrying on in the background, even at times people standing on the sidewalk watching the filming taking place. There’s a great scene inside a small grocery store with tons of neat product placement before that was a problem, and the outside activity is fun to watch. Old cars and trucks, old signage…great nostalgia. The house most of the film tales place in (one room really) is decorated in such a way that it feels real. Like visiting your great grandparents house, if you were so lucky to have that opportunity. And there are lots of little details to drink in too, such as the fact the Pops has a picture of Coolidge on his wall, the man he used to protect. It doesn’t stare you in the face, but with a movie heavy on dialogue, it's nice to have things to see in the background that help make you appreciate what you’re watching even more.

    Suddenly is by no means up there in the list of great mid-20th Century cinema, and there are plenty of holes in the story. For example, why would the Secret Service still have the President even stop in a town they suspected there might be an assassination attempt? But it’s well-made, and an interesting story that pre-dates the assassination of President Kennedy by barely a decade, plus it’s a wonderful slice of life from the post-Korean War, pre-Vietnam conflict era.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Image delivers the film in high-definition with a 1080p AVC encoded image, and an aspect of 1.33:1. The detail is sharp, and the black levels very satisfying. The print used has minor damage and with a pesky hair here and there, but for the most part looks really nice. At times the edges look a bit soft, but all things considered it’s a very pleasing image. This is not the first time Suddenly has been released in high definition, as HD Cinema Classics also released the film on BD just a short time ago this year. Having not seen that version, a comparison is not possible. The audio on this Image release is a 2-channel DTS-HD Master Audio mono track and is missing any issues of note. Dialogue is clear and easily understandable and no hissing or pops were even noticed.

    For extras, two audio commentaries are available, one by Frank Sinatra, Jr. and one by film professor Drew Casper. Casper’s is by far the better of the two, as he stays talking throughout the picture with very little quiet time. Sinatra’s commentary has a lot of silence. Also Casper’s is full of all kinds of great facts and analysis, but it's dry. Too bad they couldn’t get both men on the same commentary. Two seems like overkill. Also included in a 15-minute short called N.Y.,N.Y. by Francis Thompson in 1957. Eat some peyote and kick back to it, because maybe it will make more sense that way. Why this is on here is unknown to this brain. And finally, an Image Gallery featuring promotional material for the film is up for viewing. Ad mats, articles, and mention of a Sinatra interview and free ads for radio stations are made. Too bad that stuff couldn’t replace the short film.

    The Final Word:

    An engaging movie, Sinatra as a homicidal maniac, a decent array of extras, and a nice picture. What more needs be said? 100 percent recommended.
    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!