Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Sudden Fear (1952)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Sudden Fear (1952)

RKO's and director David Miller's melodramatic, psychological crime noir included extensive on-location shooting in San Francisco, including Golden Gate Park, although the climactic chase scene was filmed in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles. The suspenseful film was a box-office success, and scored four Academy Award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actor Award for Jack Palance (in his first major role), Best Actress for Joan Crawford (with her third and last nomination, in competition against Bette Davis - and both lost), Best B/W Cinematography, and Best B/W Costume Design (due to 23 costume changes for Crawford). Elmer Bernstein's musical score was also un-nominated.

The film's plot involved a love triangle between a married couple: a rich SF heiress and successful, middle-aged, Broadway playwright (Crawford) and ambitious actor (Palance), and a femme fatale (Grahame) from the actor's past - his ex-girlfriend and real lover. Thus commenced a cat-and-mouse thriller between the sexy mistress and scheming husband in an attempt to acquire the money of the wife by eliminating her, not knowing that she had also devised a vengeful scheme to turn the tables on them. The two taglines described the terror and her transformation:

  • HEARTBREAK...Poised on a Trigger of Terror!
  • I Was Made To Live For Him... To Die For Him!... But Now I Could Kill Him!

The opening title credits appeared above the image of a small antique clock with a very active swinging pendulum.

In NYC's Broadway area, at the Bijou Theater where "Halfway to Heaven" was about to open (scripted by playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford)), rehearsals were being held. In the audience, Myra was displeased with the un-romantic acting style and look of leading man Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) and she fired him for being "not right for the part." He was bitter about her decision and lectured her before leaving the stage:

"Miss Hudson, in your own native city of San Francisco, there's an art gallery in the Legion of Honor in which there's an oil painting of Casanova. It's quite obvious that you have never seen this painting. For your information, Miss Hudson, this is what Casanova looked like: he had big ears, a scar over one eye, a broken nose, and a wart on his chin, right here. I suggest, Miss Hudson, that when you return to San Francisco, you visit this gallery and see this painting!"

About a month after the opening of her box-office smash hit, Myra boarded a train for her home in San Francisco, and she happened to notice that Lester was one of the passengers. As their acquaintance blossomed during the long cross-country journey, Lester decided to not disembark in Chicago as planned but to continue on to San Francisco with Myra. He was destined to prove her wrong about how un-romantic he was.

Lester on Train to SF
Becoming Acquainted on Train with Myra

Later after arriving in the city, they went to many posh nightclubs for dinner and late-night dancing. After returning early one morning to her SF mansion with Lester, Myra showed off her work-room with a dictating machine that recorded her spoken thoughts. Lester quoted from her play as he tested it - and they kissed as they listened to the recording:

When I wake in the morning, when I go to sleep at night, I think of you. You're like the air which surrounds me, the sky which spreads above me, the earth beneath my feet. When I hear music, when I see beauty, when I breathe in the sunlight, I think of you. You are the sister I never had, the mother I have almost forgotten, the wife I have always dreamed of. There isn't a relationship you can name which exists between a man and a woman of which I wouldn't say let it be you. Let it be you.

They were slowly falling in love, but then, on the evening of an exclusive dinner party at Myra's SF mansion, Lester didn't show after two hours and his bags were packed when the frantic Myra arrived at his apartment. He explained he felt out of place in her world and was planning to leave: ("I have no place in your life, Myra. No proper place...I don't belong to your world. You have so much. I have nothing"), but she convinced him to stay - repeating his phrase back to him: "Without you, I have nothing." She hugged and kissed him. They were soon married (off-screen), and early one morning after awakening, Myra told him to look away because she wasn't properly made up:

But I haven't even got my lipstick on. A woman has to wear lipstick. I feel positively naked without it.

At an elegant, hosted party by the married couple, one of the invited guests was pretty and young Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame) from New York - the recent girlfriend of Junior Kearney (Mike Connors), the brother of Steve Kearney (Bruce Bennett) - the Kearney brothers together represented Myra as her lawyers.

When Irene returned to her Tamalpais Apartments dwelling, she was seized by Lester who was angered by her sudden appearance in town. She claimed she had seen his wedding announcement in the NY newspaper, and had followed him out to San Francisco a week earlier "to see how you were getting along." They had a volatile criminal partnership and background - she had lent him $5,000 dollars in the past and then she referenced "the house on Fire Island...or the night after New Years." He refused to be blackmailed: "If you ever do, you're gonna need a new face." When she reclined back on her sofa and purred: "Thanks a lot...for still loving me," he decided to remain and shut the door - presumably they then had sex (off-screen).

Negotiations were ongoing with the Kearney lawyers about Myra's proposed large gift (a percentage of her estate) to charity, in memory of her father, through her Hudson Heart Foundation. Lester insisted to Steve Kearney that he didn't want to live off Myra's wealth: "I'm not the kind of a man who could live on his wife's money." Later, Lester secretly met with Irene, and entered into a partnership with her: "Why don't we really start to work together the way we used to?" - he asked her to entice her boyfriend Junior to find out the amount of Myra's gift - and then he kissed her.

Lester Pressuring Irene to Find Out About Myra's Charity Gift
Partnership in Crime Sealed with a Passionate Kiss
Irene Relaying Information to Lester - with a Sexy Invitation

After getting Junior drunk on five martinis, Irene learned that Myra was planning to relinquish her entire inheritance and would retain only her real estate assets and her income royalties earned as a playwright. Not much of her fortune would be left to Lester. She then added, temptingly:

"Why don't you use that key I gave ya and come on over. We've got lots to talk about."

On a Friday evening, Myra met with her lawyer Steve in her work-office with an added change or stipulation to her will. In her revised will, she would bequeath her play income royalties AND her real estate holdings to her "beloved husband" Lester, instead of just $10,000 per year for life following her death:

"I do hereby give and bequeath to my beloved husband, Lester Blaine, the income from all my play royalties, this income to be his in perpetuity, and is not revocable on his remarriage after my death, or during my lifetime, should our marriage be dissolved...Upon my death, all my real estate and investment holdings are to go to my husband, as a small return for the happiness he has given me."

She insisted on dictating and recording the new terms on her office's voice-activated dictaphone - but then afterwards, she forgot to turn off the device.

During a private party and bridge game that evening in Myra's home, Irene and Lester slipped away to speak together in the office (off-screen). The next morning (on Saturday), Myra listened in horror to the recording - she heard Lester and Irene scheming and speaking about her original will. They feared that it would disadvantage Lester, although Myra had actually proposed to give him much more in her revised statement. She heard Lester claim on the recording that he didn't really love her:

"This part of the loving bridegroom is beginning to crawl out of my ears....Sometimes when I'm with her, it's all I can do to keep from saying, 'Be yourself, wise up.' 'Love you? I never loved you, never for one moment.' I'd like to see her face."

She listened as the two embraced and kissed (Irene complained: "You've smeared my lipstick"), and then revealed how misinformed they were about her revised will. Lester was angered when he thought he would receive a pittance of only $10,000 a year until he remarried: "If that dirty double-crossin' dame thinks that she can..." Irene suggested killing Myra before Monday, her birthday - the day she was to finalize her will and sign the trust agreement over to the foundation:

Irene: "Suppose she isn't able to sign it on Monday."
Lester: "What do you mean?"
Irene: "Suppose something happened to her between now and Monday. Who'd get her money?"
Lester: "Her husband. Lester Blaine. I'd get it all, why not?"
Irene: "Sure, why not?"
Lester: "Rich. You and me, rich."

As they ended their recorded conversation, Irene assured Lester: "Three days. We'll work it out. Kiss me. Kiss me. Hard." He responded: "I'm crazy about you. I could break your bones." She didn't like the exaggeration: "No more." Irene asked for her apartment key back to avoid any suspicion: "We'll have to be careful. You'd better give me the key back...You know what key. The key to my apartment." They both agreed Myra's death had to be a "nice, foolproof little accident." Irene reassured Lester: "I know a way" (the recording skipped, repeating the phrase).

Completely devastated and stunned by these shocking revelations, Myra went to eject and then hide the recording disk behind a library book, but it dropped from her hands in front of her fireplace and shattered. She fantasized about all the ways she could be killed - falling to her death from a tall building, a fiery car crash off a cliff, or smothering with a pillow.

After hearing phrases from the recording playing in her head, Myra devised a similarly diabolical, devious and complex plan to counter-act the plot against her:

  • she stole Lester's key case (with Irene's apartment key) while he was sleeping in his adjoining bedroom, went out and made a duplicate key, and then returned the original
  • she put on an act by suggesting that she and Lester rest up by visiting the summer house for the entire weekend (off-season), but then claimed that she had to stay and work on Saturday; she asked Lester to go air out the place that afternoon; Irene joined Lester at the summer house to plot Myra's murder together (they decided upon a fall off the steep rock stairs leading to the water)
  • while they were gone, Myra entered Irene's empty apartment with the duplicate key, stole some of Irene's monogrammed stationary (and a writing sample) and took Irene's gun found in a closet
  • she forged two notes, one to Irene and one to Lester; Irene was instructed to meet Lester inside his garage Sunday at midnight, and Lester was told to meet Irene at her apartment also on Sunday at midnight
  • on Sunday morning when Lester asked if she was ready to go to the summer house with him, she announced she still had to stay in town to attend her best friend's birthday party (for cocktails, dinner and bridge); Lester seemed disappointed that their 'accident' plot wouldn't be possible now before Monday; he and Irene met later in the day to plot further
  • at a social event that evening, Myra managed to slip Lester's forged note into one of Irene's white gloves, and also after pretending to fall and injure her ankle on the stairs, she was able to place Irene's faked note into Lester's pocket

Later that night, Myra (dressed up to look like Irene) imagined her detailed time schedule beginning at 11:00 pm, as she sat in preparation in front of her ticking pendulum clock (from the title credits). She saw herself with Irene's gun sneaking into Irene's apartment at 11:20 pm and hiding just before Irene was dropped off by Junior at 11:35 pm. After Junior left, Irene was scheduled to meet Lester in his garage at 11:40 pm, and wait for him there. When Lester arrived at Irene's place at 12:00 midnight, Myra fantasized shooting him to death with Irene's gun, so that the blame could be placed on Irene. Then Myra saw herself returning to her own home at 12:20 am, at the same time that Irene was leaving the garage and entering her apartment at 12:30 am - to find Lester shot dead.

Myra Imagining the Evening's Timetable - Beginning at 11:00 pm -
She Would Shoot Lester and Irene Would Be Blamed For the Murder

In actuality, the scheduled events went slightly differently than she expected. At about 11:55 pm, Myra was forced to hide in a dark shadowy closet when Junior dropped Irene off and he lingered for a kiss. As midnight approached, Myra (sweating profusely and crying) was repulsed by the thought of murder and changed her mind. She threw down the gun just as Lester showed up, forcing her to again hide in the closet. Lester became suspicious when the phone rang (it was a call from Junior who was concerned about Irene) and then he found Irene's gun on the living room floor and his own planted monogrammed handkerchief in the vacated closet (accidentally dropped by Myra before she fled).

Lester raced off to his open convertible at the same time that Myra was running down the street on-foot, and he began chasing after her in a very tense sequence. Simultaneously, Irene left Lester's garage at about 12:35 am, wearing a white scarf, white gloves, a white dress and black coat identical to Myra's outfit.

The Film's Final Lethal Twist

In the film's final lethal twist, Lester mistook Irene for Myra on the street and ran her down - even though Myra cried out a warning to him: "Lester - that's Irene!" She watched as both were killed in a major smash-up when the car overturned. As a passerby, Myra overheard the two pronounced dead at the wreckage: ("The man's dead. The girl's dead too"). Sorrowful, she heard the ambulance pull up before she walked up the street into the night after discarding her white scarf in the flowing water in the street's rain gutter.

Myra Hudson's Opening Play in NYC

Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford)

Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) - Angry at Myra For Firing Him From Play

In SF - Dining & Dancing with Myra at Fancy Spots

Myra's Dictating Machine

Myra - Falling in Love With Lester While Listening to His Recording

Myra to Lester: "Without you, I have nothing."

Wedding Announcement in NY Newspaper

Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame)

Lester to Irene - Refusing to Be Blackmailed by Her: "If you ever do, you're gonna need a new face"

Myra with her Lawyer - Expressing Her Love for Lester By Increasing His Share of Her Inheritance

Myra Listening to the Dictaphone Recording - Shocked and in Sudden Fear for Her Life

The Shattered Disk

Myra Stunned and Horrified by the Revelations on the Recording

Irene and Lester Plotting Myra's Accidental Murder at the Summer House

A Sample of Irene's Handwriting and Stationary

Myra's Two Forged Notes

Further Plotting by Irene and Lester to Kill Myra - Considering Poison!

At Midnight, Myra Changed Her Mind About Murdering Lester

Myra Fled on Foot From Lester in His Car

Last Image of Myra - Striding Up the Street Without Her Scarf


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