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Sinatra, Armed and Dangerous

March 31, 1994|GEOFF BOUCHER

A year after Frank Sinatra won an Oscar for his passionate performance as Maggio in "From Here to Eternity," the scrawny man with big voice again explored the role of the edgy loner in the far lesser known film "Suddenly."

"Suddenly" is a simmering thriller set in a lazy, rural California town (the film's title is the city's unusual name) where the strait-laced sheriff (Sterling Hayden) has nothing better to do than roam the streets and chat with shopkeepers and children.

That idyllic setting is quickly set on its ear when a legion of state and federal authorities descends on town, which will soon host a surprise visit from the President. The commander-in-chief is passing through on his way to Los Angeles, and the Secret Service suspects that Suddenly will be the site of an assassination attempt.

Enter Sinatra, who plays bloodthirsty gun-for-hire John Baron, a World War II veteran who was decorated for his battlefield acumen before he was discharged for his sadistic streak. Despicable in every way, Baron is an angry brute with a sharpshooter's eye and a chip on his shoulder.

The film holes Baron and his two henchmen up in a hillside home overlooking the railroad station where the President will be arriving in a few hours. The sheriff stumbles onto the trio of hired hoods and is taken prisoner along with the home's family. From there on, the movie ticks away the tense minutes as the uneasy group, and the audience, await the President's train.

Hayden as the stiff, square-jawed lawman and the always enjoyable James Gleason, playing the patriarch of the captive family, are watchable, but the small movie clearly belongs to Sinatra.

After gun-whipping a hostage and scolding a frightened youngster, Sinatra stares straight into the camera, his eyes glazed and fierce, and describes the power of guns, how they make him someone, how they make him God. In his voice, you can hear the power that made him a great singer and the passion that made him a film star.

"Suddenly" (1954), directed by Lewis Allen. 77 minutes. Not rated.

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