June 27, 2024


1948 / 82 min
Available at www.MovieZyng.com
Review by Mr. Paws😸

Film noir doesn’t begin much more intriguingly than this. In New York, disheveled Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan) grabs a gun and boards a Greyhound bus bound for California. By his dark, determined expression, we suspect he’s traveling cross-country to kill somebody.

That somebody is Frank Enley (Van Heflin), a decorated war hero & businessman leading an idyllic life in the suburbs with loving young wife Edith (Janet Leigh) and their infant son. Upon arriving in town, Joe wastes no time trying to track Frank down. We still don't know why he's trying to kill him...but Frank certainly does.

It’s a compelling first act that has the audience burning to know the relationship between these two. Act of Violence keeps fueling the tension as Frank initially refuses to explain what’s going on, even while Joe is lurking right outside of their house. Heflin’s performance in this sequence is also an effective piece of foreshadowing. Just by his mannerisms and impatience with Edith, it’s suggested that Frank may not quite be the all-around good guy he seemed to be earlier.

As Joe relentlessly pursues Frank, their shared past is revealed. Both were POWs at a Nazi prison camp during World Ward II, where an incident resulted in the deaths of all the other soldiers and Joe being permanently injured. Frank initially tells Edith that Joe’s simply crazy, but later confesses what actually happened while they were prisoners, a shocking revelation that alters our perception of both Frank and Joe. 

Too cool to fish with a pole.
Act of Violence piles on the moral ambiguity when Frank refuses to get the police involved, feeling it would tarnish his reputation. While fleeing Joe, he stumbles into a bar and meets Pat (Mary Astor). She introduces him to a shady lawyer who coerces Frank (now drunk) into spending $10,000 for a thug, Johnny (Berry Kroeger), to take care the problem. Meanwhile, Joe’s girlfriend, Ann (Phyllis Thaxter), has followed him to LA, imploring him not to kill Frank because not-only would he be throwing his own life away, it would devastate the man’s family. Sobering up, Frank realizes he can’t bury his past and is desperate to stop Johnny before it’s too late, leading to a suspenseful showdown during the final act. 

What makes Act of Violence somewhat unique in film noir is we’re equally invested in both of the main characters. Each is deeply flawed, yet while they may not necessary be likable, they certainly earn our empathy. Heflin and Ryan are excellent in their roles, especially the latter. No stranger to the genre, he instills Joe with his usual cool menace while displaying a hint of uncertainty as the narrative progresses. Playing somewhat against type at this point in her career, Astor is wonderful (and convincing) as an aging, cynical prostitute. 

Running a lean 82 minutes, the film hits the ground running and doesn't slow down, seldom straying from the dark tone established in the very first scene. Featuring tight direction by Fred Zinnemann and aided to a great degree by Robert Surtees’ moody cinematography, Act of Violence is an underseen film noir gem.


FEATURETTE - Act of Violence: Dealing with the Devil is a short but entertaining piece with comments & appreciation by a few directors and historians.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By film historian Dr. Drew Casper. 

2 CARTOON SHORTS - "Goggle Fishing Bear" (MGM) and "The Shell-Shocked Egg" (Looney Tunes). Not among the best from either studio.


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