Re-Watching the Classics: Suddenly

Suddenly is a classic film noir with two of the greats. We have Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden in this battle of good and evil. the film is from 1954 and was written by Richard Sale and directed by Lewis Allen. Frank Sinatra got top billing for this film because he had just won the Academy Award for his performance in From Here to Eternity. I recently watched the 2 part documentary on the life of Frank Sinatra from H.B.O. Films, and I got to say, his life was interesting, and could be the basis of a good noir film! I was hoping they would bring up this film, but unfortunately I did not get any new insight on this. The reason I wanted a little more information on this is supposedly Lee Harvey Oswald watched this film only weeks before he shot John F. Kennedy. The documentary did go into depth about how close JFK and Sinatra where, but did not touch on this film. The other story, which Ben Mankiewicz told just a few weeks ago on Turner Classic Movies while talking about this film, is that Sinatra was so upset about Oswald possibly using this film as inspiration to kill his friend, he had this and The Manchurian Candidate pulled off of television play. Others say this is false and he never tried to do that. If you think Sinatra would not have enough pull as an actor/singer to do something like this, watch the documentary and find out how much pull this man had in not only the entertainment industry, but in politics as well.

This story starts out with a small glimpse into a sleepy little town in California named Suddenly. The Sheriff is Sterling Hayden who protects this little town and is well liked. He has a thing for a widow played by Nancy Gates and her son looks up to Hayden. Soon the town is a buzz with something big coming. Hayden takes charge getting ready for the Secret Service, they are coming to inspect the town because the President is coming through on his way to play golf down the road. As Hayden is helping them, three F.B.I. Agents lead by Sinatra, go to Gates’ house to make sure everything is clear for the President. Gates lives with her Father-in-Law who happened to be an Ex-Secret Service Agent. One of the current Secret Service Agents worked with the Father-in-Law and wants to personally go up to the house and say hi. Hayden takes the agent to the house and when the Secret Service Agent meets the F.B.I. Agents all hell breaks loose.

This is a really amazing little film and well worth watching. Hayden is good as always and Sinatra is brilliant as the psychopathic killer that the war created. Most of this movie takes place in a small house, but the tension blows the roof of this one. I think fans of Sinatra and Hayden will obviously enjoy this film as well as classic film noir fans. On the other hand if you don’t know why Sinatra was such a huge star, give this a watch and see how he could command a room. This would make an amazing double feature with The Manchurian Candidate.

Review: Illegal

Illegal is a film noir from 1955 starring film noir great Edward G. Robinson.  This film is also one of the first films of Jane Mansfield’s short career.

The film is directed by Lewis Allen and a screenplay by noir writers W.R. Burnett and James R. Webb based on a story from Frank J. Collins.  This is the third time Collins’ story was brought to the silver screen.  I’ve never seen the other two films, so I can not compare the three.

This movie starts out with Robinson as a District Attorney winning a case.  We see the man convicted going to the electric chair.  Robinson is rushing to the hospital where he is given a death-bed confession.  He calls the prison and is too late, they have executed an innocent man Robinson got convicted.  Robinson quits the office and soon becomes a defense attorney.  He is also in love with his assistant, played by Nina Foch who stays at the D.A.’s office and marries another man played by Hugh Marlowe.  Robinson uses his great skills to win cases for some of the worst criminals in town.  This shows one case after another, won in grand fashion by Robinson.  The last case of the film is a very personal one for Robinson’s character and it cranks up the tension and grittiness of the film.

This film is obviously at a  lower quality level then we are used to from Robinson.  Robinson of course was in some of the greatest pre-noir gangster films and a list of some of the best films noir of the 1940’s.  He was then caught up in the McCarthy Un-American Activities Committee.  He testified and was absolved of Communist activities, but was never in anymore great films.  He did elevate films like this one but was never able to re-gain his standing as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, playing minor parts in big movies and big parts in small movies.

This is still a good film worth watching for Robinson fans and classic film noir fans.  Though it isn’t the same quality of story and production of his earlier stuff, it is still a highly enjoyable performance and film.

Favorite Tidbit:  Edward G. Robinson’s character is loosely based on the famous lawyer Bill Fallon, “The Great Mouthpiece” who got gambler Arnold Rothstein off for the “Black Sox” of 1919 World Series fix.  His likeness has appeared in a number of films and television series over the years.