One of the best things about Suddenly is that the poster is so misleading, with its photo of a woman in sexual peril, gripped hard by a man who, according to the copy, is a “sensation-hungry” killer. In fact, the man doesn’t like the woman (sexually or otherwise) and tells her so. To him, she isn’t even worth killing, since there’s no price on her head. John Barron is the man, played by Frank Sinatra, and the man with the price on his head is the President of the United States. The woman is part of a family unlucky enough to live in a house on a hill overlooking the train station where the President is going to debark at five o’clock.
Long believed one of the films that Lee Harvey Oswald watched in the weeks prior to the assassination of John F. Kennedy (a claim more recently debunked — and hell I don’t know), Suddenly certainly seems like a movie that would have caught Oswald’s attention. Barron is a little guy trying to be taken seriously who discovers that he can be, any time he wants, just by carrying a gun — and being willing to use it. He and two other thugs take the woman and her family hostage while they prepare to blow the President away with a high-powered rifle.
Written by Richard Sale, who evidently got his start in the pulps, the script is tough and the story taut. But if this is pulp fiction, it’s of the very best kind: perceptive, clever, and, at times, darkly comical. This is a smart film, with a plot made all the more plausible by its sharply drawn characters. Sinatra is terrific as the amoral Barron and it’s amusing to see him squared off with Sterling Hayden, the woman’s would-be cop boyfriend, who, at 6’5″, towers over the 5’8″ Sinatra. It’s a visual joke, a metaphor, but no one ever forgets the stark reality of Barron’s equalizer.
Forgettably remade in 2013 by Uwe Boll.