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The tranquility of a small town is marred only by sheriff Tod Shaw's unsuccessful courtship of widow Ellen Benson, a pacifist who can't abide guns and those who use them. But violence descends on Ellen's household willy-nilly when the U.S. President passes through town... and slightly psycho hired assassin John Baron finds the Benson home ideal for an ambush.
For more about Suddenly and the Suddenly Blu-ray release, see Suddenly Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 30, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason, Nancy Gates, Willis Bouchey
Director: Lewis Allen
» See full cast & crew
Suddenly Blu-ray Review
Suddenly took a while.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 30, 2012
"Suddenly" is an adverb indicating quickness or an abrupt transition, but that hardly characterizes the long wait I had to endure to finally receive a screener of this film from HD Cinema Classics (which is somehow connected to another label called Film Chest), a company which has specialized in releasing Blu-rays of public domain titles over the past couple of years. In one of our Blu-ray.com staff meetings earlier this year, we discussed how this "remembered for the wrong reasons if it's remembered at all" film was actually being given two Blu-ray releases, one by Image, and this one. Since the Image release was advertised as having been sourced from an "original 35mm studio fine grain master print", I mentioned up front that the HD Cinema Classics release might not have much to offer in terms of video quality, since the label tends to source from less pristine elements and often applies rather aggressive DNR to their releases to cover up any perceived flaws. Initially the PR firm handling this release told me it had been inexplicably delayed, and when I mentioned the more or less simultaneous Image release to them, they seemed surprised and stated they knew nothing about it. Repeated inquiries about a screener were unanswered, and I frankly concluded that HD Cinema Classics had pulled the plug on the release after having found out about the Image offering. I was rather surprised, then, to see some members here posting in the Forum about the HD Cinema Classics release, and actually taking me to task for not having secured a screener or knowing about its availability. In my (perhaps sputtering) defense, I can only say I handle upwards of seventy or eighty releases per month, and I count on the PR firms handling those releases to keep me abreast of various developments, including changing street dates and the like. I don't regularly "scout" Amazon to see if the PR firms have misinformed me, nor do I ever visit other review sites to check on what has been covered. When I received no answers to repeated inquiries, I made that oft-derided decision to assume something I probably shouldn't have, and so I offer a hearty mea culpa. But now, some months after its release, Suddenly is not so suddenly in my hands.
Suddenly (the film, not the adverb) is a generally taut little thriller that has been perhaps unfairly maligned by having been incorrectly linked to the Kennedy assassination for a number of unsubstantiated reasons. Putting aside the controversy that has swirled around the film for decades (quite a bit of it unwarranted), Suddenly is a fascinating B-movie with some A-list actors doing fantastic work, chief among them Frank Sinatra, who forsakes even his rakish hero charms to deliver a menacing, at times quite viscerally disturbing, performance as small time thug John Baron, who suddenly (whoops) has intimations of going "big time" when he's hired to assassinate the President. In one of the little plot holes that is never adequately filled in Richard Sale's lean, spare screenplay, we get "top secret" word that the President is going to detrain (hey, it was the fifties) in a small southern California town named Suddenly (what, it's a proper noun now, too?), which is where Baron and two of his henchmen show up to perform the murderous deed. (How they were let in on this "top secret" information is never really adequately explained.)
Even though there are swarms of state police and even Secret Service in attendance in the sleepy little town, as well as the town Sheriff, Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden), Baron and his cohorts weasel their way into the home of an attractive widow, Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates), whose home just happens to be on a bluff overlooking the train station. It also just happens that Ellen's father Pop Benson (James Gleason) is a retired Secret Service agent, and just for good measure Helen is being romanced by Sheriff Tod. Baron ends up taking all of them hostage, as well as Ellen's spunky little boy, the rather oddly named "Pidge" (Kim Charney). The bulk of Suddenly's rather brief running time plays out in the Benson house, as the hostages (which soon include a television repairmanŚremember those?) try to figure out a way to save themselves, not to mention our nation's Chief Executive.
Suddenly offers a remarkable turn by Sinatra, who is razor sharp and surprisingly vicious in several scenes. Sale's screenplay and director Lewis Allen's staging are mostly expert, with the calm, almost somnambulistic, ambience of a mid-fifties American town suddenly (there I go again) interrupted by sudden bursts of extreme violence. The film is a fascinating reflection on that era, one where people simply couldn't imagine anyone trying to kill an American President. It's a sad reflection on our era that what probably seemed outlandish to 1954 audiences seems only too believable today.
Suddenly Blu-ray, Video Quality
Suddenly is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of HD Cinema Classics with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.34:1. As Michael Reuben has suggested in his review of the Image release, the supposed original aspect ratio of 1.75:1 is almost certainly incorrect (one could reasonably argue 1.85:1 or even 1.66:1), but this so-called "full frame" presentation offers a well balanced visual presentation, albeit with considerable head room at times. Now, here's where the vagaries of reviewing and personal opinion will perhaps be of some interest. I have tried to replicate at least a few of the screenshots accompanying the Image Suddenly review for comparison's sake, while at the same time providing some other moments of the film as well. Though HD Cinema Classics doesn't claim to have sourced this from a "fine grain print" (emphasis mine) as Image does (a somewhat suspect term in any case), it does clearly state that its high definition transfer was culled from 35mm source elements. To my eyes (and judging only from the screenshots of the Image release, as I haven't yet picked it up), the HD Cinema Classics image (no pun intended) is at times sharper and crisper than the Image release, though it also has a patently more artificial look which I attribute to digital sharpening techniques. While grain is still more than apparent throughout this presentation, my best guess is that HD Cinema Classics did indeed apply some DNR, as there is a kind of weird unnatural look to the grain at times. Contrast seems a bit more distinct in this HD Cinema Classics release as well, with a wider disparity between blacks and whites. HD Cinema Classics does seem to be getting better at "gussying up" older public domain releases, and Suddenly certainly hasn't been drowned in DNR like some of the label's earlier releases. In motion, most of Suddenly looks quite good most of the time.
Suddenly Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio menu on Suddenly boasts a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (supposedly mono) track, but what is actually on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono) offering. There's nothing egregiously horrible about the audio, and aside from one kind of strange moment early in the film when David Raksin's underscore breaks up even as the dialogue continues unabated, the film sounds fine within its lossy confines. Dialogue is very cleanly and clearly presented and while things have a kind of just slightly boxy overall sound, for the age of the film and the fact that this was sourced from a print, things sound really rather good overall.
Suddenly Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Suddenly Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Suddenly doesn't waste a lot of time and/or celluloid cutting to the chase, and if there is fault to be found with the film, it's that it attempts to create characters wholesale in a kind of generic way without getting into the nuts and bolts of what actually makes them tick. There are a few too many convenient coincidences dotting the landscape as well, but otherwise Suddenly is a fantastically taut little thriller that is certainly one of Sinatra's crowning achievements as an actor. Blu-ray aficionados now have two editions to choose from. This HD Cinema Classics release offers good, if occasionally problematic, video, though its advertised lossless audio turns out to be Dolby Digital. The commentary by Tom Santopietro is excellent however, and with caveats noted, this release comes Recommended.
Suddenly: Other Editions
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Suddenly Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Suddenly Blu-ray - September 5, 2012
Film Chest has officially announced that it will release a combo pack edition of Lewis Allen's Suddenly (1954), starring Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden and James Gleason. The film, which has been restored from the original 35mm film elements, will be available ...
Suddenly Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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