The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, August 10-16

Joan Crawford in David Miller’s SUDDEN FEAR (1952). Courtesy Film Forum via Photofest. Playing Friday, August 12 - Thursday, August 18. Sudden Fear (1950)
Directed by David Miller
It’s the equally scorned sibling to Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce. A star, visual verve, and generic fusion are shared between them, but their approaches differ. Were the winning pair of Miller and writer Lenore J. Coffee—his first noir, her several-dozenth script—a noir couple, we’d be the deceived spouse. That Sudden Fear is linked to noir is the first twist; despite the pulpy title, the film more closely resembles the heaving melodrama pertinent to Joan Crawford. Here, she’s a blockbuster dramatist, her creative control burning actor Jack Palance’s fragility, yet a romance soon blooms. The strings sweep, the waves crash, and something about that narrow mountainside road seems fishy. A second tryst lurks between Palance and Gloria Grahame, their plot to snuff Crawford for her fortune presented preposterously—yet effectively—through an always-rolling audio recorder. But the film splits here, as Crawford goes from love-stung to second fiddle; noir doesn’t typically emphasize that side. The shades draw and the silhouettes crawl. The melodrama touches—the stairs and homey comforts—shrink as though to strangle. Crawford’s overall appearance, and performance, shifts into darkness, boasting the chops that transcend camp. Sudden Fear begins on the strength of words, but as they prove shallower, the sights prove a heftier hybrid than expected. Max Kyburz (August 12-18 at Film Forum; showtimes daily)

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