Image Entertainment // 1954 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // December 6th, 2012
Sinatra goes sadistic.
In a clear case of being careful what you wish for, Frank Sinatra was desperate to be taken seriously as an actor. While he remains the greatest pop vocalist of all time, even his Oscar for From Here to Eternity couldn't calm his desire to be as successful on the big screen as he was on radio and records. So during the latter part of his cinematic career, he took risks -- major risks. In 1961, he starred in The Manchurian Candidate, a film that would become a classic -- albeit one stained by the death, two years later, of Sinatra's good friend, John F. Kennedy. Seven years before, however, he was on the other side of the gun, playing a psychotic hood who has plans of assassinating...the President of the United States. Suddenly, now out on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment, is a solid Sinatra oddity, a chance to see the singer play dangerous, and succeed for the most part. While not one of his best films, it is one of his most unusual, and prescient. It's rumored that this was one of the last things Lee Harvey Oswald watched before that fateful day in November, 1963.
Sinatra plays John Baron, a man who is hired to kill the President at a stop-over at the title town. For the residents of this tiny California burg, it's a big, big deal. Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden, Dr. Strangelove) is hoping for the best, and when FBI agents show up at Benson home overlooking the site where the event will occur, Pop (James Gleason, The Night of the Hunter) feels better. Of course, it turns out that Baron has faked his federal credentials, and after doing away with the real G-men, they take the family hostage and start setting up. At first, the pacifist leanings of the family, specifically widowed daughter Ellen (Nancy Gates, World Without End) allow the criminals to act freely. But when they realize the stakes involved, and see just how ruthless and sadistic Baron and his boys will be, guns and violence once again rear their reluctant, destructive heads.
Yes, you read that right. Frank Sinatra, the man whose blue eyes and baritone caused bobbysoxers to swoon, was so closely connected to the Kennedy assassination, at least metaphysically, why he's not prominently featured in Oliver Stone's JFK remains a mystery. Suddenly's specious connection to the crime notwithstanding, the singer was so set off by the President's death that he (supposedly) pulled both this and The Manchurian Candidate from release for many years. Still, for his over-the-top acting alone, this movie deserves consideration. With its capable supporting cast, noir elements, and topical subject matter, it's an unusual combination of entertainment and enigma. Sinatra is the star here, and he proves his gold statue for Eternity was no politicking payoff. Instead, his wiry frame holds the screen with a kind of kinetic magnetism. We believe that John Baron is a vicious and cruel psychopath. We know he will do anything to satisfy his need to kill. And we get that the Benson family, haunted by the aftermath of losing a loved one in Korea, can't bring itself to retaliate...at least, at first.
But then the anti-pacifism message arrives full force and Suddenly, suddenly, becomes a bit muddled. Ellen is entitled to feel the way she does. She's lost her husband. Yet when trying to make time with the Sheriff, the go-with-guns diatribes grow tiring. Even with Sinatra snacking on the scenery, the anti-NRA warnings are a waste. They tend to wholly define the characters instead of adding shades. Even worse, the movie doesn't have the courage of its convictions to stand its ground. When Baron proves he will stop at nothing to murder this fictional Commander in Chief, what eventually stops him? You guess it-sort of. With its low budget leanings and b-movie make-up, Suddenly may seem like a curiosity in the career of a man who made far more powerful and important statements both on vinyl and on celluloid. When taken in context of his overall part in history, however, it's a tad surreal.
For this Blu-ray release, Image does a decent job, with a few caveats. Boasting a cover art claim that said film is "transferred from original 35mm studio fine grain master print" the visuals do look terrific. The monochrome contrasts are sharp and the details definable. The problem arrives with the notion of OAR. Some on the web are arguing that the 1.33:1 image offered is "not right." Citing "sources," they claim the movie was original presented in 1.75:1. They also complain about the "rounded edges," "added information" in the frame, and other creative intent issues. Whatever the case, this version looks amazing.
On the sound side, we get a lossless DTS Master Audio mix...in Mono. That means the soundtrack has been cleaned up, but it's still thin and a bit tinny. There's no distortion, but there's no depth or immersion either. As for added content, we get a weird movie montage of New York a la the 1950s (apparently to prove that, since he made it there, Sinatra could then make it anywhere), as well as a pair of commentaries. One features Family Guy fave (and son of the Chairman) Frank Sinatra, Jr. The other features noir expert Dr. Drew Casper. Go with the latter. It's informative and insightful. Sonny boy has some great anecdotes (he was on set while the movie was being made), but there are gaps in his recall.
Suddenly may suffer from its (questionable) place as part of both Sinatra's attempt at movie stardom and the famous death of a world leader. It may also be nothing more than a well acted, well intentioned political thriller. Whatever the case, it's definitely worth checking out. Old Blue Eyes certainly had the artistic chops to make something like this work. While not as shocking as it was six decades ago, this is still a solid, if slightly strange, experience.
Not guilty, proving Sinatra could act as well as sing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* Full Frame (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film
* Image Gallery