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Wednesday September 19th 2018

Sudden Fear | 1952

Sudden Fear location: Scott Street, San Francisco
Sudden Fear location: the home of wealthy Broadway playwright Myra Hudson: Scott Street, San Francisco

A wealthy heiress with a changeable will, a ruthless gigolo on the make, a cliffside home with treacherous steps (“There’s not even a handrail!”) and a custom-built dictation machine with hidden microphones all over the place – what could go wrong?

The plot contrivances are irrelevant in this engagingly nourish suspenser which sees Broadway playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) smitten with younger actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance).

The action is set around San Francisco where Hudson’s home palatial home is – as the film claims – 2800 Scott Street at Green Street in the classy Pacific Heights district (the house is now the Indonesian Consulate).

Hudson’s seafront getaway (those steps turn out to be a bit of a red herring) is 250 Beach Road at Belvedere, an exclusive community on the tip of the Tiburon Peninsula across the bay, north of San Francisco in Marin County.

Sudden Fear location: Lombard Street, San Francisco
Sudden Fear location: Lester Blaine's apartment: Lombard Street, San Francisco

Blaine stays in the apartment at 1001-1005 Lombard Street at Leavenworth Street, at the foot of the famed ‘Crookedest Street in the World’, though the film is careful to edit out Hudson’s car negotiating the series of eight switchbacks which might have raised a few unintentional laughs.

Sudden Fear location: Tamalpais Building, Greenwich Street, Russian Hill, San Francisco
Sudden Fear location: Irene Neves stays in the San Francisco high-rise block: Tamalpais Building, Greenwich Street, Russian Hill, San Francisco

Unknown to Hudson, Blaine is still dallying on the side with old girlfriend Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame), who’s staying in the Tamalpais Building, 1201 Greenwich Street at Hyde Street in the Russian Hill district. An ominous sign, this 1920 highrise is where murderous Agnes Moorehead lived in the 1947 Bogart-Bacall film noir Dark Passage, although it did also feature in 1997 comedy George of the Jungle.

Myra Hudson’s Sound Scriber, the state-of-the-art dictation recorder, inadvertently reveals that the apparently besotted Blaine is not only involved with Irene but planning a ”nice foolproof little accident” for her.

Sudden Fear location: Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, San Francisco
Sudden Fear location: murderous Lester furtively meets up with Irene: Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, San Francisco

Lester furtively meets up with Irene at an organ recital held in the Palace of the Legion of Honor, Legion of Honor Drive in Lincoln Park on San Francisco’s northwesterly tip. The art gallery, a twin of the Legion d’Honneur in Paris, is famously featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and in Brian De Palma‘s Raising Cain.

Discovering the plot against her, the resourceful and imaginative writer comes up with her own devious plan to thwart it, though things don’t go entirely as intended.

Oddly, the final sequence was filmed back in Los Angeles. In 1952, if you needed steep streets and staircases in LA, the natural go-to was the old Bunker Hill area and that’s where the climactic chase was filmed. The whole district has since been developed beyond recognition and there’s nothing left of those atmospheric old streets.