44 Days Of Paranoia #22: Suddenly (dir by Lewis Allen)


We are halfway through the 44 Days of Paranoia!  In order to mark this special occasion, I’d like to feature one of the first true American conspiracy films, the 1954 film noir Suddenly.

Suddenly takes place in the small town of Suddenly, California.  (If only the town had been named Tranquility, so much trouble could have been avoided.)  On the day that President of the United States is scheduled to visit the town, a group of gangsters led by John Baron (Frank Sinatra) takes over the house of the Benson family.  It turns out that the Benson House overlooks the train station where the President will be arriving and Baron is planning on assassinated the President as soon as he steps off the train.  Baron sets up his rifle in the family dining room and, while he waits for his target to arrive, he also has to deal with a steadily growing number of hostages who do not want the President to be assassinated in Suddenly.

Clocking in at just 70 minutes and basically taking place on only one set, Suddenly is a grimly suspenseful film that is all the more effective because it deliberately keeps Baron’s motives obscure.  We know that someone has hired Baron to kill the President but we’re never quite sure who.  In the role of John Baron, Frank Sinatra gives one of his best performances and invests the character with subtle menace.

Frighteningly, Suddenly has apparently recently been remade by Uwe Boll.  That’s the type of news that will make any lover of classic film go, “Agck!”  However, the original Suddenly has entered into the public domain so, if you have 70 minutes to spare, please feel free to watch it below.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City

3 responses to “44 Days Of Paranoia #22: Suddenly (dir by Lewis Allen)

  1. I glimpsed at one of the earliest scenes in “Suddenly”, where the war widow, Ellen Benson, makes that angry speech about the stupidity of warfare and the false heroism that goes along with it. The scene really hit home with me, so I made a point of tracking down a copy of “Suddenly” to watch it from start to finish. Of course, if you’ve seen “Suddenly” (and if you haven’t stop reading now, because what follows constitutes a minor spoiler), Ellen sells out her non-violent beliefs (albeit through no fault of her own) at the end of the picture, so those patriotic war-loving audiences of the 1950s to go home feeling happy–because no war widow should ever question the righteousness of those who serve in the military, right? Not even if her own husband got splattered to pieces in some foreign country.

    I imagine that Elle n’s anti-war tirade at the beginning of “Suddenly” would have made more than a few audience members uncomfortable, as would have John Baron’s rant about the unimportance of the US President, how he’s no better than anybody else. I’m guessing that Americans back in the 1950s were somewhat more patriotic than they are now, so Baron’s words must have seemed like blasphemy of the worst kind. Sure, US Presidents being bumped off is nothing new, but real-life assassins Leon Czolgosz and John Wilkes Booth at least went after the President because each murderer saw America’s head of state as an important man who needed to be eliminated. John Baron is simply going after the President for the money–enough cash for him to disappear from the country forever. As far as John Baron is concerned, picking off the President would be no different from knifing a hobo in a back alley. No big political motive needed, Baron is simply after the loot. This is one of the things about “Suddenly” that really works for me–Baron’s motive, or lack thereof. Sometimes the best reason a villain can give really is “because I can”. Oh, and “for the money”.

    Frank Sinatra really makes the character work–Baron seems totally authentic, and even though he has murder on his mind, a lot of what Baron says makes a lot of sense. As for Ellen Benson, she was played by Nancy Gates, who is still around, long retired from acting, and is a native of Dallas, Texas, which I’m sure will please a certain redheaded film reviewer greatly.

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    • Yay! 🙂 It’s nice that she’s still around.

      I agree with you — John Baron is intimidating precisely because he doesn’t have some sort of complicated back story. He’s a professional, he’s going to do his job, and that makes him a lot more menacing than if he had been some over-the-top madman.

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  2. Pingback: 44 Days of Paranoia #36: The Fugitive (dir by Andrew Davis) | Through the Shattered Lens

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