This weekend, the Museum of the Moving Image begins a series spotlighting The Films of Frank Sinatra; things kick off tonight with On the Town. The least-know film in the series, Lewis Allen’s Suddenly!, from 1954, screens Saturday evening.
Before he starred in the 1955 film version of Guys and Dolls but after On the Town and From Here to Eternity, Frank Sinatra starred in a grim low-budget thriller called Suddenly! In it, Ol’ Blue Eyes throws himself into the role of John Baron, an amoral hit man who plots to assassinate the President of the United States because he likes playing God and because he considers political assassination to be an ultimately inconsequential act. Baron, pretending to be FBI, teams up with two other armed gangsters to take hostages and shack up in a house directly overlooking a local train station where the POTUS is scheduled to make a brief stopover. And all the while, Baron schemes, leers and boasts about everything that makes him different than all the normies in the world.
Sinatra exudes a creepy kind of charm with every broad, defiant smile he makes. He’s not protecting his image as a tough but pretty, though he doesn’t quite disappear into the role. He can however look vulnerable, as when he whimpers and begs for his life, and he’s great at acting totally unhinged, like when he explains how he’d be nobody if he weren’t a gun-toting murderer. It’s a testament to Sinatra’s magnetic presence that you never wonder when Sterling Hayden, who plays a local sheriff that Baron’s guys take hostage, is going to put Baron in his place. Hayden’s sheriff never does, giving Sinatra that much more room to pace and fume.