Myra Hudson (Crawford) is a successful Broadway playwright who rejects Lester Blaine (Palance) as the lead in her new play. Later, she meets Lester on a train bound for San Francisco, is swept off her feet, and, after a brief courtship, marries him.
Lester learns that Myra is writing her will and plans to leave the bulk of her fortune to a foundation. He plots her murder in cahoots with Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame), an old girlfriend hiding in the wings.
Myra discovers their plans and concocts a diabolical scheme to kill Lester and place the blame on Irene, but cannot bring herself to go through with it. Lester learns of Myra's intentions and chases her through the streets of San Francisco in his car while she is on foot. Myra is able to avoid him but Lester mistakes Irene for Myra and is about to run her down. Myra shouts to stop him but he realizes too late. He tries to avoid Irene but crashes, killing them both. Myra overhears the two pronounced dead and breathes a sigh of relief as she walks off safely into the night.Joan Crawford as Myra Hudson
Jack Palance as Lester Blaine
Gloria Grahame as Irene Neves
Bruce Bennett as Steve Kearney
Virginia Huston as Ann Taylor
Mike Connors as Junior Kearney
When the film was released, the film critic for The New York Times, A. H. Weiler, reviewed the film favorably, writing, "Joan Crawford should be credited with a truly professional performance in Sudden Fear ... The entire production has been mounted in excellent taste and, it must be pointed out, that San Francisco and Los Angeles, Bunker Hill area, in which most of the action takes place, is an excitingly photogenic area. David Miller, the director, has taken full advantage of the city's steep streets and panoramic views. And, in his climactic scenes in a darkened apartment and a chase through its precipitous dark alleys and backyards he has managed to project an authentically doom-filled atmosphere."
Otis L. Guernsey, Jr., also wrote a positive review in the New York Herald Tribune. He wrote, "The scenario...is designed to allow Miss Crawford a wide range of quivering reactions to vicious events, as she passes through the stage of starry-eyed love, terrible disillusionment, fear, hatred, and finally hysteria. With her wide eyes and forceful bearing, she is the woman for the job."
More recently, Village Voice reviewer Melissa Anderson wrote that Sudden Fear "fits into and defies different genres, its convention-scrambling partly the result of the fact that the film looks both forward and back." Dennis Schwartz liked the film, but questioned some of the film's plot points, saying that "David Miller stylishly directs this disturbing psychological gargoyle thriller ... [Yet] ... the suspense is marred by plot devices that don't hold up to further scrutiny. Joan Crawford has a chance to act out on her hysteria after her happy marriage is unmasked as a charade, and does a fine job of trying to remain calm while knowing her hubby and girlfriend are planning to kill her ... The film is grandly topped off by Charles B. Lang Jr. and his remarkably glossy black-and-white photography."
Crawford received her third and final Oscar nomination for this film, the one and only time she competed against archrival Bette Davis for Best Actress, who was nominated (for the ninth time) for The Star. Neither actress won; Shirley Booth took home the prize for Come Back, Little Sheba.
In 1984, film noir historian Spencer Selby noted, "Undoubtedly one of the most stylish and refined woman-in-distress noirs."
Laurel Awards winGolden Laurel: Best Dramatic Performance, Female: Joan Crawford
Academy Awards nominationsBest Actress in a Leading Role: Joan Crawford
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Jack Palance
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White: Charles Lang
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White: Sheila O'Brien
Golden Globes nominationBest Motion Picture Drama Actress: Joan Crawford
Sudden Fear was first released on VHS by Kino Video. Kino also released the film on Region 1 DVD in 2003. In 2006, the film was also released as part of Film Noir - The Dark Side of Hollywood DVD box set by Kino Video. in 2016, the fim was released on Blu Ray by Cohen Film Collection.