Sunday, June 03, 2007

'Suddenly': Sinatra as assassin

I love a good, old-fashioned, black and white B movie.

Came across a classic such flick on TCM last week. Watched it last night when I couldn't sleep. You're not going to believe this one.

The picture is called "Suddenly." Released in 1954, the thriller focuses on a gang of assassins that plans to kill the president of the United States when his train stops in the sleepy town of Suddenly, Calif. Standing in the way is straight-shootin' local sheriff Tod Shaw, played by Sterling Hayden, and the Benson family --- an aging ex-Secret Service agent, his widowed daughter-in-law and her eight-year-old son.

Guess who the leader of the cut-throats is --- the guy who plans to pop the prez? Why, it's none other than Ol' Blue Eyes himself.

Released fresh on the heels of his Oscar-winning "comeback" role as Maggio in "From Here to Eternity," the two films are the high water mark of Sinatra's movie career. Sinatra's take on would-be presidential assassin John Baron may be his best.

I didn't think I was going to like the film at first. Hayden's acting was incredibly wooden. Most of the other actors are downright terrible. But Hayden grows on you and Sinatra is simply brilliant.

Sinatra had a knack for playing little guys with big chips on their shoulders. His performance here is better than the one that won him the Academy Award.

TCM host Robert Osborne delivered a delicious gem after the final credits. He said that Sinatra was horrified to learn that John F. Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald reportedly watched "Suddenly" in 1963, days before killing the president in Dallas. As a result, he had this film and "The Manchurian Candidate," another Sinatra picture revolving around presidential assassinations, yanked from distribution.

No historical evidence exists to prove that Oswald watched the film that November and a spirited debate at the Internet Movie Database questions whether "Suddenly" was even ever pulled from distribution. But "Manchurian Candidate" was taken out of circulation following Kennedy's death and wasn't seen again for nearly 30 years.

All that aside, "Suddenly" is worth a look if for no other reason than Frank Sinatra's chilling portrayal of a presidential assassin.

Look for the film on the late show, or buy it on DVD.

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