Brokeback aside, it’s never been more obvious that gays pull the strings in Hollywood than that glorious glimmer of reel time in the early- to mid-’60s, when aging, desperate movie queens like Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland bared every flappy wrinkle in a gaggle of crazy-pants psychological thrillers. I mean, come on, you can’t even think about getting your gay card until you sit through a drunken, back-to-back marathon of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush … Hush Sweet Charlotte.
One of the precursors to that not-so-golden age, a little-known noir gem called Sudden Fear, stars a heavily shoulder-padded Joan Crawford as wealthy playwright Myra Hudson, who falls in love with and marries Jack Palance’s chiseled-but-loose-on-the-morals Lester Blain. The honeymoon phase ends quickly, however, when Lester suspects his new wife is amending her will to make sure the bulk of her fortune goes to charity. So he teams up with an old flame and the two plot to murder Myra before she can make the change. Sound like a heard-it-all-before snoozefest? You haven’t even given Mommie Dearest the chance to warm up yet!
When Myra catches word of their plan, she turns all batshit, devising a murder plot of her own that involves gunning down Lester and having the blame placed on his silly mistress. No one does melodrama better than Miss Crawford, who totally goes there for her lip-quivering, so-hysterical-my-eyes-are-about-to-explode close-ups. She even received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for this one.
See the lady in action tomorrow night, when Secret Cinema screens the 1952 classic in 16mm as part of a benefit party for AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. Author and film historian Richard Barrios, a veritable treasure trove when it comes to gay-Hollywood gossip, will introduce the picture.