The Role of Shadow in the Noir Film " Sudden Fear "

In director David Miller's 1952 film noir classic, "Sudden Fear", a clock's pendulum rhythmically sways and its shadow falls across Joan Crawford's face, shifting from side to side like her thoughts. Although we cannot see the thoughts within her mind, the shadow of the clock speaks of them: "Do I kill him before he kills me?"

The clock ticks away, measuring the seconds. She holds a written schedule in her hand. It forecasts the minutes before and after midnight tonight; I leave her house at a certain time, Irene goes to the garage to meet Jack at midnight but he isn't there. Jack comes to Irene's house while she's away, and there I shoot him with her gun. She returns when I am gone and is convicted of murder. Everything is in place, and everything is simple.

We see what she sees as she imagines each element of her plan. It ticks away like clockwork in her mind, each piece falling into place perfectly. In her mind, the plan is executed as void of emotion as the clock. The clock doesn't care about each minute it measures, and Myra Hudson doesn't care about each step in her plan. At least, not right now.

The shadow continues to tick across her face.

But when the time comes to put the plan into action, there is no clock to measure her steps. The pieces are falling into place, the clock of fate has been set in motion, but can she stop it? If her plan is discovered, he will surely kill her.

Myra tries to flee, but Jack sees her leaving Irene's apartment. A chase ensues and the shadows no longer tick away like a smooth running machine. The shadows are awkward, indecisive. Railings go this way and that, and the shadows are disorientating.

But this is film noir, and shadows are practically a character in the story.

In "Dark City: The Film Noir" Spencer Selby calls "Sudden Fear" one of the most stylish and refined woman-in-distress noirs. It received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Joan Crawford), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jack Palance), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and Best Costume Design.