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Suddenly

***
1954

‘Suddenly is a tough, unsparing film that is worth a revival today; as a historical document, is captures a sense of pessimism and entropy that wasn’t given free rein until the rampant downbeat paranoia of the 70’s….’

Some films are banned, other films are quietly removed from circulation. Lewis Allen’s 1954 thriller was withdrawn from our screens via the wishes of star Frank Sinatra who, back in the day, felt that this and The Manchurian Candidate were a little bit too close to the bone to be widely seen. That’s because both films deal with presidential assassinations, and after Dallas 1963 in particular, that was a hot topic that the famous crooner wasn’t so keen to be the poster boy for.

Suddenly takes its name from a small town; a train is due to call in, and the president of the USA, a reputable profession back in those days, is on that train. There’s a three-second window of opportunity for a sniper to pick off the POTUS, and John Baron (Sinatra) is planning on making a killing. Disguised as secret government agents, Baron and his men take over a domestic abode with a clear sight line and wait; Sterling Hayden is the resolute cop who has to figure out the plan and Die Hard himself one step ahead of the crime before it happens…

Ok, so some of Suddenly is a little dated now; there’s a few scenes of characters stiffly asking each other to show their credentials which can’t help but raise a smirk, and sexist attitudes like ‘Helen, will you please stop being a woman ?’ don’t play so well today. But Sinatra was a dangerous presence when he wanted to be, and this dank role, as a sinister edge-lord who throws his weight around, suits him to a T. Baron seems to take sexual pleasure from violence, and he forces complicity from those around him. ‘Kill them all, you can only hang once’ is his philosophy, and although Baron’s mission fails, his nihilism leaves a mark.

Baron claims that his feelings were ‘taken out of him by experts’, but his nihilistic attitudes reach back less than a decade or so to the Nazis, and so forward to 2022 and the GOP’s game-changing pre-midterm tweet of the three chaos agents of the anti-semitic apocalypse ‘Kanye. Elon. Trump’. ‘What do they want?’ Baron says of those who hired him, before answering his own question ‘Nothing’; the disruption and destruction of democracy is the point of the gun-for-hire actions he commits. Suddenly deliberately leaves the details of the ongoing conspiracy blank, which gives it some ‘fill in the blanks’ prescience today. Even though the president is saved, the ending is downbeat and blank, with the cop stumbling past the camera mumbling ‘I don’t know’ as the credits roll. Suddenly is a tough, unsparing film that is worth a revival today; as a historical document, is captures a sense of pessimism and entropy that wasn’t given free rein until the rampant downbeat paranoia of the 70’s.

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  1. Not a hit at the time either. Presidential assassination was not the trope it later became when you could count on the likes of Clint Eastwood or Gerard Butler to defuse attempts. The concept was also seen as a cynical attempt to cash in on the 100th anniversary of the death of Lincoln the following year. Although it was released in Sep 1954, the slowness of the distribution system back then meant it would be hitting small towns just about the time of the anniversary. I saw this way back and was impressed with Sinatra’s performance but whatever ban was imposed didn’t last that long.

    • These bans must have worked a bit; I remember seeing Manchuran at the GFt in the early 90’s and there had been no way to see it for years. Didn’t know the 100th anniversary was the motivation for making Suddenly; ‘too soon for Lincoln’ was always the comedy joke about this..

      • I’m not sure where anybody got the idea it was Sinatra personally that stopped the film being seen. It may just have been one of those legal complications about rights – The African Queen was unseen after initial release for about 15 years over squabbles among the rights holders. There’s no mention of it in James Kapaln’s 700-page bio of Sinatra. There was no sign of it being pulled from cinemas. According to Variety it was the no 4 film for dec 1963 and it was shown in US cinemas in May, Aug and Dec 1964. CBS screened it in 1965 and it was reissued in Germany in 1966.

        • So maybe I should retract the use of ‘ban’, but he certainly chose not to have Manchurian kept off screens until 87. I think UA claimed that they withdrew that film out of respect for JFK, which sounds bogus to me. My understanding is that neither film featured in the large tv/VHS boom of the late seventies, and that would be something Sinatra may well have chosen. Suddenly the film is very dark in its suggestion of ex government operatives using spy craft to create political havoc; it still has edge.

          • It certainly was a “lost” film for some time. UA didn’t withdraw it or not until long after it had run its course in the cinemas. I don’t think it did end up on VHS which may have sparked the notion of self-censorship.

            • More conspiracy theories I guess. Sinatra would a quite touchy customer, it wouldn’t seem unlikely. Reagan being shot threw a harsh light on these things in the 80’s, can’t imagine Francis Albert being keen to promote or even talk about the accuracy of these films.

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