Sudden Fear revisited

Director: David Miller
Costumes: Sheila O’Brien

Free-to-air TV has been throwing up some real treats of late, especially in the late-night movie department. In a happy coincidence, given my recent blog about Baby Jane, I recently watched another gem starring Joan Crawford: Sudden Fear.

This noir thriller also stars the even-creepy-when-young Jack Palance as Crawford’s husband with murder on his mind.

Costume designer Sheila O’Brien was nominated for an Oscar for her work on the film. Certainly Crawford, as wealthy heiress and successful playwright Myra Hudson, is given some delicious outfits here, from a very modern-looking split-neckline black dress (below) to a white keyhole halterneck dress covered in looped beading.

She’s a rather insecure and stitched-up character in some ways—from her headscarves to her well-secured ankle-strap shoes—who doesn’t like leaving things to chance. Hence her plot to kill her husband before he kills her, putting the blame on his love interest Irene (Gloria Grahame).

An aspect of the costuming I particularly like are the pyjamas: Myra’s neck-to toe frivolity (top), through to Irene’s carefree Chinese silk man-style pyjamas (below) through to Lester’s monogrammed set, which give him an air of a man enjoying his new-found wealth since marrying Myra.

Spoiler alert!
The ending, from a costuming perspective, is particularly fabulous. It’s not often that a film’s climax is the result of the wardrobe: in this case, both Myra and Irene wear virtually the same outfit—dark fur coat and white headscarf—and mistaking Irene for Myra in the dark of night, Lester runs over Irene, killing himself in the process.

The final scene in which Myra walks back home, realising what has happened, is also wonderful. Knowing she is now rid of her husband, she takes off her headscarf, dropping it into a puddle like so much emotional detritus. Good riddance, indeed.

Images © RKO, 1952

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