Almost half a century ago, the United States suffered one of the worst tragedies of the twentieth century. That tragedy was the assassination of then President John F. Kennedy. Conspiracy theories aside, what many people might not know is that according to author Kitty Kelley, it was Sinatra’s 1954 movie, Suddenly that was the alleged influence behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of then President John F. Kennedy. According to her bio on the singer, His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, Oswald allegedly watched the movie the day before he changed history. As a result of this accusation, the movie was pulled for years before it was finally allowed back into the public realm. And now audiences can see how Suddenly may have played a role in that dark day for themselves as it has been re-issued on Blu-ray by Image Entertainment.
Suddenly is hardly the longest movie ever made. But that’s not a bad thing, either. In a time when it seems like so many movie studios seem to be competing with one another to see who can make the longest possible story, this movie comes in at a little less than ninety minutes. Throughout the course of its hour and fifteen minute run time, audiences are kept engaged thanks to the growing tension between Sinatra’s psychopathic ex-military officer John Baron and Sterling Hayden’s clean cut fellow ex-military officer Sheriff Tod Shaw. Much like 12 Angry Men which wouldn’t see the light of day for another three years, what really heightens the story’s tension is that the majority of the story takes place in a limited set. This is a minor factor to some audiences. But in viewing the movie from a more analytical vantage point, it’s a factor that plays a much larger factor. Understanding this makes the movie that much more interesting and worth the watch. Add in the understanding of the controversy surrounding the movie, and audiences get a movie that is that much more intriguing, underappreciated, and worth the watch.
A single viewing of Suddenly shows how Lee Harvey Oswald could easily have been influenced to commit a copy-cat act. But it’s not necessarily the attempted act in question that will have audiences talking after watching. If anything it’s Baron’s (Sinatra) comment late in the movie that he wasn’t the one committing the act. Rather he was doing it for someone else, purely for the money. Baron told Sheriff Shaw that he didn’t know for whom he was working and didn’t care to know, either. If anything this brief moment will surely re-ignite the discussions between conspiracy theorists about whether or not Oswald worked alone. On another level, it serves as one more example of the possible power of media to influence real life. Should there be any credence to the influence of Suddenly on Oswald’s actions, it can be just as strongly used as another warning to the media in regards to taking responsibility for the potential impact of what is written for TV shows and movies.
Getting back to the story behind Suddenly as art. Writer Richard Sale accomplished quite the feat with this movie. It wastes no time establishing the story’s plot and its cast. As a result of this quickness, the rest of the story is spent in just a few rooms of a house. For most film makers and script writers today, limiting a story to so few sets would prove a mind twist, so to speak. That’s because so many of today’s movies rely more on flash-boom-bang special effects and overt sexuality to drive their stories. But for Sale, his writing was solely story based. It allowed for more tension between Sinatra and Hayden. And that tension is what keeps audiences so engaged. There was obviously some chemistry between the two as they expertly played off of one another throughout the story making it increasingly emotional. The chemistry between the two men made for a movie that was entirely enthralling; so much so that it’s ironic that it wasn’t Hayden whose character was ultimately responsible for the movie’s final outcome. That outcome won’t be ruined for those who haven’t yet seen it. But it is an ending that has quite the twist in and of itself. It’s a twist that will leave audiences completely breathless after everything that had happened through the course of this underrated thriller. That twist ending is the icing on the cake for Sale’s writing here. And combined with the equally expert acting of both Hayden and Sinatra (and their supporting cast), it all comes together for a movie that is at the same time underrated and underappreciated. And now that it’s available once more on Blu-ray, it’s a movie that every movie lover should see at least once.
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