Joan Crawford and Jack Palance both got Academy Award nominations for their performances in David Miller's Sudden Fear. Crawford plays Myra Hudson, a playwright who has taken little time to cultivate real-life counterparts to the romantic plots she crafts for the stage. After dismissing actor Lester Blaine (Palance) from her latest hit production for not being appropriately seductive, he proves her wrong by seducing and marrying her.
Only, Myra was right the first time. Lester is a heel, and he and his real girlfriend, Irene (Gloria Grahame, In a Lonely Place [review]), are plotting to create a tragic exit for Myra and collect all of her Broadway money. It's a classic game of criss-cross when Myra uncovers the scheme and tries to beat Lester and Irene at their own game. Miller (Lonely are the Brave [review]) has put together a nerve-wracking final act. He sets it up with an excellent montage in which Myra imagines every step of her counterattack where everything goes right, and with that as a reference point, it increases our anxiety when we see how badly it can go wrong. The action happens in the dead of night, providing plenty of opportunities for people to hide in darkened doorways and skulk around corners.
Jack Palance is a large man with chiseled features, and his presence is imposing. When Myra screws up his sure thing, he grows desperate, and that actually makes him scarier. There is also something to be said for how much more tension is created when the victim is appropriately scared. Crawford's large eyes and severe mouth are a blessing in such a situation, and her fright makes Palance's threat even more palpable.
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