Directed by Lewis Allen in 1954, Suddenly begins in the small town of the same name where a Sheriff named Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) is talking to Pidge (Kim Charney), the son of his girlfriend, Ellen (Nancy Gates). Pidge wants a toy cap pistol but as his father was killed in the war, his mother has an aversion to guns. Tod buys it for the kid anyway, it'll be there little secret.
From here we head home where Ellen's father, a retired secret service agent named Pop Benson (James Gleason), is trying his hand at fixing the TV with fairly horrible results. Pidge and Ellen wait patiently for Todd to come home unaware that some current day secret service agents, lead by Dan Carney (Willis Bouchey), have arrived in town to safeguard the President Of The United States (exactly which President they mean we never learn, but if you figure Dwight Eisenhower was in office when this was made, you can assume it would have been him) who is due to get off a train arriving at the local station at exactly 5pm. As Ellen and her family go about their business, waiting for TV repairman Jud to show up, there's a knock at the door from a man named John Baron (Frank Sinatra) and his two cohorts claiming to be F.B.I. agents themselves and needing to search the house. Ellen lets them in, of course, and soon Tod arrives - but it turns out that Baron is not an F.B.I. agent at all, he's a psychotic former soldier with a chip on his shoulder and a plan to make a cool five hundred grand by assassinating the President - and with his sniper rifle set up, he plans to use their house to do it form.
Tightly paced at only seventy-six minutes long, Suddenly wears its politics plainly on its sleeve, placing pro-gun messages throughout the movie from the opening scene with Tod and Pidge to the conversation about the glory of dying in battle that takes place between Pops and Ellen through to the resolution of the conflict that arises in the latter half of the movie. At one point Pops brags about taking a bullet in the line of duty, noting that he was lucky to survive but would have been luckier still if he hadn't been taken out of action as a consequence, while Baron uses his pistol to wave around in the faces of his hostages, noting that having a gun makes him 'sort of like a god.'
Outside of the money we never learn anymore about Baron's motives. We're never told who was paying he and his two men to take care of this but given that the movie was made during the Cold War it's a safe assumption to assume it was some dreaded communists. This goes along with the pro-gun/pro-war message already discussed and ties into Pop's speech which touts 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' above all else. The movie has also got some pretty strong misogynist leanings, making an example out of Ellen's tendency to want to raise her son without a love of war or firearms and instead promoting through its finale the finer points of stereotypically masculine traits like fighting and violence. A psychologist could probably have a field day going over the bits and pieces of this movie, but regardless of all of that, Suddenly makes for good entertainment even if it is very much a product of its time.
As far as the cast are concerned, Kim Charney isn't given all that much to do outside of looking scared and concerned. Sterling Hayden holds his own here, playing the strong male character well and doing a good job of keeping up appearances. Sinatra steals the show as the loudmouthed bad guy. He talks and talks and talks some more, which seems out of place when you start to think about what his character is up to but somehow he makes it work by infusing just enough sweaty menace into the character too pull it off. He's very good here. Supporting efforts from the likeable James Gleason as the grandfather (and only real source of comic relief in the movie) and Kim Charney as the brave young Pidge keen to follow in Tod's footsteps as an officer of the law are also strong.
Suddenly arrives on Blu-ray in a very nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition fullframe transfer. While this might have been shown widescreen theatrically, there are no obvious cropping issues here, the transfer appears to be open matte and it looks just fine presented that way, though those with an aversion to too much top and bottom picture info can zoom in a bit if they feel the need. Transferred from the negative, image quality is pretty good. Detail is impressive in some shots, a bit soft in others and if texture won't floor you it does improve over standard definition. The black and white image is pretty clean, showing very little in the way of print damage and a completely acceptable amount of natural looking film grain.
The English language DTS-HD Mono sound mix, with comes with optional English SDH, is also of very good quality. Dialogue is perfectly easy to understand and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to note. Understandably, range is limited here but the score sounds good as do the sound effects. Not an amazing track by any stretch but one of decent quality regardless.
The main extras come in the form of two new audio commentary tracks, the first of which is with Frank Sinatra Jr. and maybe not so surprisingly the focus of this first track is on his father's career and his work in this film. It's a nice look back at Sinatra's involvement in filmmaking and a nice little history lesson in that regard. The second commentary is from Dr. Drew Casper, a film Professor at the USC School Of Cinematic Arts, and it offers a nice mix of historical trivia and critical analysis. Casper has obviously done his research here and discusses not only who did what and when but also the film's politics, its history, its impact and more.
Image has also included a fifteen minute short film by Francis Thompson entitled N.Y., N.Y.: A Day in New York that was made in 1957. There's not really a whole lot to this, it's a random assortment of footage shot around New York in the fifties presented 'kaleidoscope' style and set to music. Aside from that, we also get an Image Gallery and some static menus and chapter selection.
Suddenly may be a product of its time but it holds up well thanks to an interesting concept, some great performances and some slick direction. A tense and memorable thriller, it gets a very solid Blu-ray release from Image Entertainment and comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.