Although Sudden Fear does not have the reputation of some of the film noir efforts by directors such as John Huston, it is a wonderful example of the genre, with excellent performances by Joan Crawford, Goria Grahame, and a very young Jack Palance, as well as genre-defining lighting and on-location San Francisco camera work by veteran cinematographer Charles Lang.
When Joan Crawford died in 1977, a newspaper obituary named her as one of the few major Hollywood stars to have created a genre all her own. Actually, she probably created three genres all her own. The first was a somewhat shy but sincere girl in a rags-to-riches story or surrounded by a powerful men, such as Grand Hotel. Her last genre was was as scary older women, such as in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Strait-Jacket. The genre she created in between was of an established woman with power, money and success, and it was within this genre that some of her best films were made, including Daisy Kenyon, Mildred Pierce, and Queen Bee. Sudden Fear fits into this genre and is perhaps the best example of it, although it did not enjoy the same critical success as Mildred Pierce.
Crawford plays Myra Hudson, a successful playwright who also happens to be the heiress of her father’s fortune. Although she has more than enough money to live on, she pushes herself to achieve in the theatrical world, so she can have a sense of accomplishment. Jack Palance plays a young, inexperienced actor who Myra fires from a production, feeling he does not look romantic enough for the part. Despite this rough start, the two marry, and, Like Hitchcock’s Suspicion, the bride begins to suspect that her new husband wants to knock her off to get her money. Crawford possessed a naturally dramatic face that got more dramatic with age, and she uses it to great effect in this film. There are several extended scenes with no dialogue, and indeed no other actors, in which the actress only has to look paranoid and panicked. Cinematographers loved to cast evocative light and shadow across Crawford’s face, and this is taken to its extreme in a scene in his film, which has Crawford hiding in a closet while she tries to sabotage her husband’s perfect crime, the slightly opened door cast a sliver of light across her face, which is like a crescent moon in an otherwise pitch black screen.