Suddenly (1954)

When I think about Frank Sinatra, I think about him as a singer. But he also acted in dozens of films, mostly during the 1950s and 1960s, and he was not a half bad actor. Today, his acting is perhaps best remembered for roles in classics such as From Here to Eternity (1953), Ocean’s Eleven (the 1960 original) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). But he made many other memorable performances, not least so in Suddenly.

Frank Sinatra in Suddenly (1954)

Here, we see Sinatra as a cynic war hero who has turned into an assassin, taking money for doing what he does best – killing people. He has taken on the job of shooting the president of the United States, and decided to do so in a small town named Suddenly. There his chosen firing position forces him into a close encounter with the local sheriff and the sheriff’s sweetheart, the widowed Mrs. Benson who lives with her father-in-law and her son.

During the first part of the film, the acting feels a bit stiff, especially by Stirling Hayden, who plays Sinatra’s nemesis, the sheriff. Hayden was an excellent actor, and the stiffness was no doubt deliberate on his part. He must have wanted to create a slightly boring but totally dependable and patriotic hero, just what American movie-goers needed at a time when the world seemed a very dangerous place to live, and the president was much more of a symbol for the entire nation than is perhaps the case today.

Suddenly was remade in 2013 by Uwe Boll, but the remake is said to be far inferior to the original.

This film is best enjoyed when you understand some of the political undercurrents of the time. The moral message of this film is perfectly clear: Unless you have a bigger gun than your enemy, and unless you are prepared to use it, he is going to make you suffer. In that respect, you can see this film as a metaphor for the entire Cold War. Sinatra and his gang represent the communists, and his sniper rifle represents their nuclear arsenal. It is a good thing there were still righteous Americans around in the 1950s.

Frank Sinatra in Suddenly (1954)

Suddenly
Download link
Year: 1954
Running time: 1 h 17 min
Director: Lewis Allen
Stars: Frank Sinatra
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (1488×1090)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.5 G)

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Sherlock Holmes (1954)

Sherlock Holmes is really hot on cinema and TV these days. I guess it took off with the two Guy Ritchie movies a few years ago. Then came BBC’s Sherlock, and the Americans just had to follow that up with Elementary. The latest news is that there is going to be a new movie with Ian McKellen as Holmes.

It seems like we will have to wait a few more months for the third season of Sherlock, but Elementary starts up season two on Thursday. Of course, Elementary is nowhere near as good as Sherlock, but it helps to pass the time.

Or, by all means, take a look at what came before. Elementary, as it happens, is only the second American Holmes TV series. Already in late 1954 a series simply known as Sherlock Holmes began. It only lasted for a single season of 39 episodes, but many of those are really good.

Howard Marion Crawford and Ronald Howard in Sherlock Holmes (1954)

This is not the modern Asperger Holmes, nor is it the almost aristocratic Holmes as played by Basil Rathbone, nor Jeremy Brett’s nervous and over-active detective. This Holmes, played by a young Ronald Howard, is playful, curious about all things, and with a constant gleam in the corner of his eye. Of course, he can be very absent-minded and annoying at times. This is Holmes. But, by and large, he is relaxed and easy-going, as screen Sherlocks go.

Perhaps the best reason to watch this series is the excellent interaction between Holmes and Watson. The latter was played by Howard Marion Crawford, and is perhaps closer to Martin Freeman than to Nigel Bruce, in temperament if not in outward appearance. Archie Duncan is not quite so good as Inspector Lestrade, but you cannot have everything.

The sets are nice, and especially the Baker Street flat has many little details to discover. Like many American TV series from this period, it was actually shot in Europe. But not in England (which would seem to be the obvious choice) but in France, with British actors in the leading roles. This is interesting to keep in mind when watching, since it explains things like the many supporting characters with a French accent, whether warranted or not.

Below is a list of all episodes that can be found at the Internet Archive. Some are available in low resolution only; those I know about are marked in the list. For a complete episode guide, see for example Wikipedia.

  1. The Case of the Cunningham Heritage (low res)
  2. The Case of Lady Beryl
  3. The Case of the Pennsylvania Gun
  4. The Case of the Texas Cowgirl
  5. The Case of the Belligerent Ghost
  6. The Case of the Shy Ballerina
  7. The Case of the Winthrop Legend
  8. The Case of the Blind Man’s Bluff
  9. The Case of Harry Crocker
  10. The Mother Hubbard Case
  11. The Case of the Red Headed League
  12. not available
  13. The Case of the Split Ticket
  14. The Case of the French Interpreter
  15. The Case of the Singing Violin
  16. The Case of the Greystone Inscription
  17. The Case of the Laughing Mummy
  18. The Case of the Thistle Killer
  19. The Case of the Vanished Detective
  20. The Case of the Careless Suffragette
  21. The Case of the Reluctant Carpenter
  22. The Case of the Deadly Prophecy
  23. The Case of the Christmas Pudding (low res)
  24. not available
  25. not available
  26. not available
  27. The Case of the Perfect Husband (low res)
  28. not available
  29. not available
  30. The Case of the Eiffel Tower
  31. not available
  32. not available
  33. The Case of the Baker Street Bachelors
  34. The Case of the Royal Murder
  35. The Case of the Haunted Gainsborough
  36. The Case of the Neurotic Detective
  37. The Case of the Unlucky Gambler
  38. The Case of the Diamond Tooth
  39. The Case of the Tyrant’s Daughter

I wish I could make a perfect guide to all the episodes, including tips for which ones are worth seeing and which are not. However, I have not seen some of them for several years, so the best I can do is to say that a few good ones are episodes 1, 9 and 39. If you like those, you might as well go through the rest as well. In my opinion, a handful of clunkers can be tolerated for the greater good.

This series is best enjoyed if you prefer your Holmes in the original 1800s setting. Horse-drawn carriages, starch collars and gas lamps. Not to forget the deerstalker hat. Great stuff!

Ronald Howard and Howard Marion Crawford in Sherlock Holmes (1954)

Sherlock Holmes
Download link (episode 1)
Year: 1954
Running time: Approx 27 min per episode
Directors: Jack Gage, Sheldon Reynolds, Steve Previn
Stars: Ronald Howard, Howard Marion Crawford
Image quality: Acceptable for most episodes
Resolution: Low to medium
Sound quality: Acceptable for most episodes

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)

As I started preparing this week’s post, I noticed that I was not the only one who made the connection between Edward Snowden and Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. News editorials and political blogs are filled with Orwellian metaphors, and Amazon sales of the book apparently rose several thousand per cent in a single day after Snowden’s revelations were made public.

One of the very best filmed versions of the book was made thirty years before the year in the title. Nineteen Eighty-Four, like Quatermass and the Pit (which I wrote about last week), is a live science fiction drama produced by the BBC. The two productions even had the same writer and director, and some actors also appear in both.

Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)

Winston Smith is played by none other than Peter Cushing. A brilliant Cushing, at that. And if possible, Donald Pleasence as his “friend” Syme is even better. In fact, the whole production is brilliant. A few slip-ups (such as the shadow of an overhead microphone visible on screen) must be accepted in a live production such as this. The dictatorial government’s total control and repression reaches for you through the screen, and you can feel the anguish, then a vague hope, and then … But I should stop here, in case you are not previously familiar with the story.

One year earlier, American CBS had made another live TV production of the same story. I have not seen that version, but it too is said to be very good, although shorter. Orwell fans may want to check it out.

We have to acknowledge that the US is not Oceania, Edward Snowden is not Winston Smith, and Barack Obama is certainly not Big Brother. But that was never the point. The point, I think, is that the book and the film Nineteen Eighty-Four still have something to offer. Real-world events can only serve to reinforce what was already there.

This film is best enjoyed as an allegory and a warning that is just as relevant today, almost sixty years after the film, sixty-four years after the book.

'Big Brother is watching YOU!' Peter Cushing in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)

Nineteen Eighty-Four
Download link
Year: 1954
Running time: 1 h 47 min
Director: Rudolph Cartier
Stars: Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×544)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack (1.4 G)