Watch Suddenly: Frank Sinatra Stars in a 1954 Noir Film

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For Frank Sina­tra’s 100 birth­day today, we’re bring­ing back to the top a post from our archive that high­lights the 1954 noir film, “Sud­den­ly.” In this pub­lic domain flick, Sina­tra played the role of a psy­chopath. And he played the role con­vinc­ing­ly, get­ting some very fine reviews from The New York Times. Enjoy the film and our orig­i­nal post from 2012 below:

Tricky busi­ness, cast­ing a world-famous musi­cian in a movie’s star­ring role: it seems you must either craft the part to per­fect­ly match their per­sona, or to run per­fect­ly against it. Nico­las Roeg, that inim­itable employ­er of singers to his own semi-fath­omable cin­e­mat­ic ends, has rig­or­ous­ly explored this range of pos­si­bil­i­ties. David Bowie seemed the only pos­si­ble choice for the ter­mi­nal­ly lone­ly alien of The Man Who Fell to Earth, just as Art Gar­funkel seemed the last pos­si­ble choice for the psy­cho­sex­u­al tor­men­tor of Bad Tim­ing.

I per­son­al­ly regret that Roeg nev­er got to work with Frank Sina­tra, used to such strik­ing effect by John Franken­heimer in The Manchuri­an Can­di­date and Otto Pre­minger in The Man with the Gold­en Arm. To hold those pic­tures up against, say, the Rat Pack free-for-all of Ocean’s Eleven is to under­stand that cast­ing against per­sona, though on aver­age the riski­er option, pro­duces more fas­ci­nat­ing­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry per­for­mances. In the 1954 noir Sud­den­ly, avail­able free on, you can watch an ear­ly exam­ple of this in Sina­tra’s career, when direc­tor Lewis Allen turns him into a psy­chopath bent on assas­si­nat­ing none oth­er than the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

Giv­en the pro­jec­t’s unques­tioned B‑movie con­text, crit­ics regard­ed Sina­tra as hav­ing made a rea­son­ably rich meal of this vil­lain­ous part. “Mr. Sina­tra deserves a spe­cial chunk of praise,” wrote the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther. “In Sud­den­ly he proves a melo­dra­mat­ic tour de force.” Vari­ety also looked favor­ably upon him: “Thesp inserts plen­ty of men­ace into a psy­cho char­ac­ter, nev­er too heav­i­ly done, and gets good back­ing from his costar, Ster­ling Hay­den, as sher­iff, in a less showy role but just as author­i­ta­tive­ly han­dled.” Yes, you read that right: this movie pits Frank Sina­tra against Ster­ling Hay­den. Sina­tra and his crew of killers take over a small-town hill­top fam­i­ly home, the ide­al van­tage point from which to shoot the pass­ing Pres­i­dent. Then Hay­den, the town’s sher­iff, turns up to check things out. How will this clash of titan­ic per­son­al­i­ties resolve? Hit play and find out whether “the num­ber-one man in the nation,” as Sud­den­ly’s sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic poster puts it, falls vic­tim to this “kill-hun­gry hood­lum.”

You will find Sud­den­ly list­ed in our col­lec­tion of Free Noir Films and also our larg­er list 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.


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  • Fred says:

    I always hat­ed Frank Sina­tra as a per­son. I knew he had gang­ster con­nec­tions and it’s not like I actu­al­ly knew him. I think it’s because he was always a bad guy in his movies and was good enough to con­vince me that he was a bad guy. I say this now just because it’s always both­ered me that I had a neg­a­tive opin­ion about some­one I nev­er met. I do like lis­ten­ing to him sing if it mat­ters.

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