Frank Sinatra, “Suddenly”, and the JFK Assassination


Suddenly is a 1954 film directed by Lewis Allen which depicts an assassination attempt on the life of the President of the United States. Produced just nine years prior to the JFK assassination, it is impossible to not draw some comparisons, no matter how minor. But it runs a little deeper with this film starring Frank Sinatra as the lead assassin and Sterling Hayden as a proud sheriff who will try to foil the plot. The internet is a wonderful source of rumors, including one which stated that Lee Harvey Oswald watched Suddenly less than a week before his infamous deed. Others state it was his “favorite movie” and some have gone so far as to put those words in the mouth of his brother when interviewed after Kennedy’s death and even Marina herself. Like many of the conspiracy theory aspects, these go unfounded. Two books (one a biography of Sinatra, another on Oswald) have each reinforced this, but again, there is no proof—no Dallas or nearby theater schedule or TV guide listings, which would have no-doubt been discovered by now. There was also no home video at the time, so this almost absolutely rules this out. However, if you have seen the movie then you can see why a rumor such as this would not only spread, but carry weight.

The plot of the film concerns a team of assassins who hold a family hostage in a house overlooking a train station. The president is due to arrive there shortly. Virtually the entire movie is set in this house as the family banters back and forth with the killers hoping to stop them. It’s a decent movie. Sinatra does a great job as an obviously unhinged former soldier who has turned to becoming a hit-man after World War II. James Gleason, Nancy Gates, and Kim Charney are the family members held hostage. I won’t spoil the ending for you in case you have not seen it. The tone of the movie is serious, though predictable, and it perfectly captures the innocent “this could never really happen” nature of the average 1950’s American. The hostages are proud patriots who could not fathom a presidential assassination. It would be unconscionable. In real life, this innocence would be washed away with the killing of John F. Kennedy nine years later and a world that would seemingly change forever.

Do I think Oswald saw and was inspired by this film to assassinate President Kennedy? Probably not, but it is still fun to talk about. This is one of those lesser known pop-culture avenues assassination interest has taken. For those who believe Oswald acted alone, Suddenly is proof as well as his inspiration and mental instability to allow a movie to have influenced him or given him that final push. If you think there was a conspiracy, then this film is just a fun bundle of coincidences and ironies which cause you to shake your head. Or is it something more? Dun-dun-dun. Below are some of them (mainly from a pro-conspiracy point of view):

  • John Baron (Sinatra) is an apparent loner, even though he works with a team, and has no love except that of killing and getting paid for it. Oswald has always been portrayed as a loner. Baron was dishonorably discharged from the army, while Oswald was honorably discharged from the marines.
  • Conspiracy theorists often argue that three shooters were present, or a plot needed three team-members including a possible spotter. This film uses a three-man squad.
  • The assassination is carried out with a high-powered sniper rifle through an open window at high elevation. Its no sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, but the living room window of a private home on a hill which works just as well. This house is perched above a train station where the president is due to arrive. The tiny margin of error is noted (3 seconds as opposed to the ~6 seconds shown in the Zapruder film).
  • The accuracy and reliability of the rifle to be used is knocked by one of the characters, who wants to use a different weapon and be closer and lower to the target. Oswald’s gun (a 1943 Italian-made Mannlicher Carcano rifle) has often been ripped by conspiracy theorists as being the worst possible gun for him to have used to do what he did. It was unreliable and dated. The one used in the film is a 1940 German-made Gewehr. They also call into question his height, angle, and distance, and how a lower shot (such as from the Grassy Knoll) would have been better.
  • Each of the three killers are portrayed as cold-blooded murderers for hire, not passionate revolutionaries or fanatics who want to change the world. The person or group paying them is never mentioned, nor is their motive. Baron even admits he has nothing against the president and that he is just another man who he needs to kill. This is ironic, because the 1973 film Executive Action took this same route in its portrayal. It was the first JFK conspiracy movie (and arguably the most sane and realistic) which depicted wealthy businessmen wanting Kennedy done away with for financial gains. In both films, the killers are given hundreds of thousands of dollars, off-shore bank accounts, and have plane tickets to South America waiting for them upon the finality of their actions. If a hit team really was used as part of a conspiracy, it likely would have followed that path.
  • Lastly, here is a fun one. Hayden’s character’s last name is Shaw. The name of the only man ever brought to trial related to the Kennedy assassination? Clay Shaw, who Jim Garrison prosecuted in New Orleans.

It has also been rumored over the years that Sinatra had this film pulled after the assassination because he felt partly responsible. This has added fuel to the fire, but there is no proof of this either. His estate officially denies this notion. He did not own the rights to the film, but still could have used his influence and pressured them. There are also conflicting rumors which posit the film he really wanted pulled was another political conspiracy thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Suddenly has since slipped into public domain. Either way, this is an interesting side-story to a topic which never suffers of a shortage of them.

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