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Despite winning an Academy Award for his performance in From Here to Eternity, there was still some doubt as to whether Frank Sinatra could actually be a dramatic actor or if his performance was simply luck. After all, the public knew O’l Blue Eyes from MGM musicals, often alongside Gene Kelly, not from dramas.
As director Stanley Kramer said, "Sinatra was an actor with far greater range than most people noticed. His fame as a singer and entertainer was so great that many assumed he could do nothing else. Not so.”
Thankfully, the film noir Suddenly gave Frank the chance to prove that he had what it took.
Based on the short story “Active Duty” by Richard Sale, the film was actually inspired by President Dwight D. Eisenhower's journey to California via train. The part of the ruthless would-be-Presidential-assassin was first offered to Montgomery Clift. before Frank was cast.
Clift and Sinatra, of course, had worked together in From Here to Eternity, and Frank paid close attention to his co-star, whose performance deepened with each rehearsal.
He said, “With Montgomery… I had to be patient because I knew that if I watched this guy, I’d learn something.”
Just as Sinatra expected, Suddenly once again proved that he could handle dramatic roles, and critics took notice.
Unfortunately, the story of Suddenly is also linked to a national tragedy.
Frank Sinatra Jr. remembered, “Nine years after Suddenly was made, the unthinkable occurred when the then-President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was murdered as he rode in his limousine in Dallas.”
At the time, Sinatra was actually filming the Rat Pack musical, Robin and the Seven Hoods, when the news broke. It was devastating to the star, who had befriended Kennedy and helped his 1960 campaign, even changing the lyrics to “High Hopes” for the “nation’s favorite guy.”
According to Sinatra Jr., an official at ABC planned on airing Suddenly shortly after the national tragedy, and Frank wrote a scathing letter to the network to protest the callous idea.
According to some, Sinatra also tried to stop the circulation of Suddenly and The Manchurian Candidate, another of his films which dealt with an assassination attempt, though this is disputed by his daughter, Nancy.