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SUDDENLY (1954) *** ½

The President is scheduled to arrive in the small town of Suddenly. As the sheriff (Sterling Hayden) helps the Secret Service make all the necessary preparations, Frank Sinatra is busy readying his assassination plot. He takes a family hostage and tensions escalate as everyone anxiously awaits the arrival of the President.

Suddenly was famously withdrawn after it was learned that Lee Harvey Oswald watched the flick before he assassinated JFK. Because of that, it’s fallen into the public domain and has been readily available on home video and television for years. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally see it, because it’s a taut and suspenseful thriller that’s a great showcase for The Chairman of the Board.

Director Lewis (The Uninvited) Allen makes economical use of the claustrophobic setting. While the film sometimes has a stage-bound feeling, that sorta enhances the tension. At 75 minutes, the movie is just as long as it needs to be. The hostages have just the right amount of close calls (they unsuccessfully try to warn the police, trick their captors, etc.) before their actions get repetitive and hampers the suspense. It also doesn’t hurt that the film hits the ground running almost immediately and doesn’t look back.

Frank Sinatra is excellent as the coldblooded killer. He gets a couple of good monologues (sometimes while addressing the audience) and plays his despicable character to the hilt. As far as Rat Packers go, Dean Martin has always been my favorite, both as a singer and an actor. But if Suddenly is any indication, then I probably should start checking out more Frank flicks because he’s positively badass in this movie.

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