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Image Entertainment presents
Suddenly (1954)

"He didn't mean to wing you. He meant to blow your brains out."
- Johnny Baron (Frank Sinatra)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 31, 2004

Stars: Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason, Nancy Gates
Other Stars: Willis Bouchey, Kim Charney, James Lilburn, Paul Frees, Christopher Dark
Director: Lewis Allen

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, brutality)
Run Time: 01h:12m:21s
Release Date: May 18, 2004
UPC: 014381945720
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B-C- F

DVD Review

While films depicting attempts to assassinate the president have become commonplace in the wake of Dallas in 1963, they were something of a touchy subject in the years before that. This exercise in crime drama is fairly unique in its setting in 1954, complete with anti-Communist angst and a subtext that would do the NRA proud.

In the quiet town of Suddenly, sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) doesn't have much trouble keeping order. But when the word comes that President Eisenhower is passing through the town, everything changes and the Secret Service turns the town upside down in an effort to keep things secure for Ike. But that works to the advantage of hired killer Johnny Baron and his two henchman, who pose as Secret Service men themselves in order to get access to the home of Pop Benson (James Gleason), which overlooks the trainyard where the president will arrive. Things are complicated by the fact that Benson's daughter-in-law, the widowed Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates), is the sheriff's sweetheart, and soon everyone's a hostage and there's a houseful of tension as Baron makes his preparations to shake the free world.

Sinatra found himself in this low-budget thriller when his singing career tanked, but before his Oscar-winning turn in From Here to Eternity, although that film ended up being released first. His Baron is a completely sociopathic maniac, though with a much more fragile psyche than the typical sociopath might have. The film makes some good use of this vulnerability as the sheriff uses it to put a wedge between Baron and his henchmen; it also helps distract Baron and gets him to reveal more than he should. Unfortunately, the sheriff is played by the wooden Sterling Hayden, who during that same year was an abysmal Sir Gawain in Prince Valiant. This critical role should have been handled by someone that could manage more than blank dullness for an expression. Nancy Gates makes for an appealing heroine, though the film treats her as worse than useless throughout. She's dismissed as just an obstructionist for not wanting her son to play with guns or follow his father into the grave as a soldier.

The sentiments of this picture are thoroughly stone age, and will probably appeal to the extreme right wing. Women and distrust of guns are treated as weak and contemptible, while manly exploits like war and gunfire are extolled with steaming heaps of testosterone. In a particularly eye-rolling moment, Tod challenges Baron to straighten out his broken arm, shattered by a bullet. Irresponsible gun usage is everywhere, including some by Kim Charney as Ellen's young son Pidge (and frankly, anyone young enough to be named Pidge is way too young to be wielding loaded guns and pointing them at people). I wouldn't let impressionable children watch it unless your guns are securely locked away.

Although the parties who have hired Baron are never quite identified, the dark reference to "foreign powers" makes it clear that the Russkies are intended to be the ultimate bad guys pulling Baron's strings. Weirdly, Baron also goes on at length about his own heroism in WWII, with his Silver Star and other medals. Perhaps he's meant to be a grandfather to one of those disgruntled commie leftist veterans that would emerge out of Vietnam. The film is also prescient in other ways, such as anticipating the harrowing home invasion exploiters such as Last House on the Left. While not as bloody as that later venture into the field, it does manage to be unnerving thanks to Sinatra's deranged intensity.

This public domain staple has a somewhat sketchy history and it's unclear how long it's supposed to actually run. The keepcase state 77 minutes, while the IMDb indicates 75 minutes, but the film here runs well under 73 minutes, so it's possibly missing a significant bit of footage.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame transfer is reasonably good. There are some splicy bits and jumpy spots and an occasional scratch, but for a public domain title it looks quite acceptable. The picture does tend to be rather soft, and a few segments seem to have been inserted from a 16mm print, but there's an adequate greyscale and decent black levels. Probably about as good as you're liable to find this title looking.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track has mild crackle throughout; on occasion that comes to the forefront and gets quite noisy, but such moments pass quickly. The sound is at a very low volume, requiring me to put the disc up to reference levels just to be able to make out the dialogue. Thankfully, there's still a good balance between dialogue and music and effects, so no one part of the track became overpowering at those moments.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There's absolutely nothing here for extras, not even subtitles or closed captioning. Chaptering is thin, with a mere eight stops and two of those are devoted to the credits.

Extras Grade: F


Final Comments

A weird little assassination film that extols the Gospel of God and Guns, with an okay transfer but zero for extras.


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