A Movie A Day: Quint on ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) You don’t know what made him the way he is. I do.
Published at: Sept. 24, 2008, 2:28 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Alright, still sticking in there with only 2 more days of Fantastic Fest left to go. I’m in good shape… don’t think I’ll miss a column!
Today we watch noir thriller ACT OF VIOLENCE, directed by yesterday’s Fred Zinnemann. In fact, if IMDB’s filmography is in the correct order Zinnemann went from THE SEARCH right into ACT OF VIOLENCE (they were both released the same year).
They couldn’t be farther apart. THE SEARCH is a well shot, tear-jerker happiness out of horror type war flick and ACT OF VIOLENCE is almost a horror movie except here Robert Ryan is hunting Van Heflin with a loaded gun and the whisper of murder on his lips instead of a kitchen knife.
We’ve covered many Robert Ryan films in the history of this column and I’ve mentioned in the last few (like Robert Wise’s boxing flick THE SET-UP) that he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite all-time actors. The man says so much with small ticks of his face, a slight movement of the eye. Ryan knew how to perform for the camera and constantly impresses me.
And I love seeing him as a horror creature hidden inside a revenge seeking man in a noir movie. His character, Joe Parkson, walks with a limp, his face constantly contorted in pain from his damaged leg and covered in sweat from the exertion from limping along. And he’s driven by hate and revenge. I’m not kidding when he’s pretty much a movie monster in an average guy’s skin.
Van Heflin’s Frank Enley is the Jamie Lee Curtis to Ryan’s Michael Myers. The first half of the film deals with Heflin dodging Ryan and hiding his past with the man from his wife (played by a very young Janet Leigh, speaking of Jamie Lee Curtis).
We find out pretty quickly that Ryan and Heflin were once friends who were captured during WW2 and taken as POWs. Something happened there that Heflin feels an enormous amount of guilt for and is the seed of Ryan’s hatred for the man, a hate so strong he brushes off his own wife trying to talk him out of it and becomes the monster I described above.
Heflin does some considerably strong work here and he has a lot to get across here. ACT OF VIOLENCE is a surprisingly complex tale depicting different shades of grey. Heflin is the victim, but when we find out what he did and hear him let it all out after bottling it up inside for years it’s hard to sympathize with him. Ryan is the villain, but he’s a righteous villain. His anger is justified and not only that, but maybe even deserved.
The whole thing plays as a cat and mouse game, ultimately resulting in Heflin facing what he’s done… but does he make amends for it or just accept it? I’ll let you guy find that out for yourselves.
I had a lot of fun with this movie, even though my exhaustion has fully caught up with me and I started nodding off halfway through, having to pause, walk around… wake up a bit. I don’t fault the movie at all. If I wasn’t running of of 7 hours of sleep in a 50+ hour period there’s no way I’d have started losing focus.
Ryan and Heflin are too good in this thing for me to do that.
And, it might just be me, but watching this movie I was struck that Toby Jones (Capote in INFAMOUS) has a lot of Van Heflin in him. Maybe that’s a common oberservation and I just haven’t heard it yet, but that’s what struck me today. I just watched a movie with Toby Jones in it, so maybe that’s why he was on my mind.
Final Thoughts: An absolute winner of a tale, beautifully shot with a pair of excellent central performances. It’s a simple story told with complex characters. There’s no overall giant message to the movie, but a lot of subtly. If I had to suggest a double feature with this, I’d pick a past AMAD, the Paul Newman POW on trial movie THE RACK.