Before I begin my review of 'Sudden Fear' in earnest, I have to point out that this is a really poor transfer to DVD of a 1950's noir classic. Movies like 'Mildred Pierce' and 'The Women' are much older films, but of a far better picture and sound quality.
That said, it's a good thing that this is finally available on DVD, while other Crawford classics like 'Flamingo Road' are still languishing in the Vault someplace.
Now, on with the review. Joan plays Myra Hudson, the successful and wealthy San Francisco playwright, who, after having fired him from her latest hit production, falls in love with and marries an actor named Lester Blaine (Jack Palance). Against all sense and reason, Myra attempts to change her will to leave him with everything, but an overheard conversation between the conniving, unfaithful Lester and his scheming girlfriend Irene (Gloria Grahame) forces her to think very differently. A shocking climax ensues.
Made in 1952, this is Joan's first independent picture, (for RKO Pictures) and revived a flagging career. What we see here is what I like to refer to as Middle-Era Joan, being neither the ultra-glamorous 1940's Joan of 'Mildred Pierce' and 'The Women', nor the screechy, scary Joan of 'Baby Jane' and 'Strait-Jacket'. She turns in a classic Crawford performance as the hapless Myra, full of facial tremblings and overpronunciation. She's excellent as the Victim, but this is perhaps her best performance in a film outside of 'Mildred Pierce' and 'Flamingo Road'. She is touching in the love scenes, and tense and compelling in the suspense scenes. What's also remarkable is the fact that she plays the part of the older-but-none-the-wiser Myra with such honesty, instead of trying to make this on-the-shelf spinster any younger than the script allows.
Jack Palance is excellent, too, as the duplicitous Lester. He's loving and warm with his wife, but menacing and hateful in the private moments with Irene. His face is hypnotic, sometimes it's difficult to watch anything else on the screen, but he does an brilliant job with a character who swings between two extreme poles of emotion.
Gloria Grahame is simply astonishing in her role as Irene Neves. She is cold, manipulating and possesses a strange kind of open-mouthed blatant sexuality that makes her wholly believable as the Mistress. She pouts, schemes and demands her way into the picture, and her performance in what is essentially a supporting role easily stands up to heavyweights like Crawford and Palance.
Direction by David Miller is somewhat experimental for the period, but excellent. The darkness and angles used in lighting the piece gives a real sense of the noir, and the long one-shot scenes add a huge sense of tension and fear.
The ending of the movie is slightly contrived, and a little quick, but we are still left with a tense psychological thriller that stands up today as a fine example of film-making. Highly recommended.