Act of Violence (1949)

 Run Time: 82 min. | b/w
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Stars: w. Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor
 Genres: Drama | Film Noir Thriller
An embittered ex-soldier (Ryan) stalks his senior officer (Heflin), who betrayed his men while in a Nazi prison camp. A stark and well-done drama.
Box Office
Budget: $1,290,000 (estimated)


  1. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Home from WWII, veteran Frank Enley (Van Heflin) leads a comfortable life with his younger wife (Janet Leigh) in a small all-American town, until one day Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan), a former member from his platoon shows up, who seems to be out for revenge against him.

    ACT OF VIOLENCE never makes it easy on you by telling who the good guy and the bad guy is: Frank may have done something wrong in the past, but is tormented by guilt (Heflin gives a great performance here), whereas Joe may be on a righteous mission, but his need for vengeance is obsessive and blind. It introduces two radically opposed characters and in the end makes you empathize with both of them. It’s the movie HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG tried to be, but failed.

    With a strong, gripping and tense conflict like this, you hope for a great ending. It almost delivers, but not quite: the final act wraps things up too neatly, it’s a screenwriter’s ending, not a real life one.

    Nevertheless, ACT OF VIOLENCE is a greatly underrated American film.

  2. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    In "Seventh Cross" director Fred Zinnemann depicted the isolation of a concentration camp escapee (Spencer Tracy) with MGM studio sets stepping in for actual locations – that would have been impossible at the time. In "The Search" he made use of a ruined Berlin to tell the story of a very young concentration camp survivor – a young boy separated from his mother – using the ruins as a metaphor for the many ruined lives.

    In "Act of Violence" Zinnemann returns to the aftermath of war – this time telling of two prisoner-of-war camp survivors, one of whom was a Nazi collaborator, the other one a vengeful fellow prisoner who takes it upon himself to track down and kill his former friend. Cinematographer Robert Surtees makes great use of Los Angeles’ seedier parts of town – I was reminded of how his son Bruce Surtees made similar effective use of San Francisco in "Dirty Harry" – this is noir at its best, not only in cinematic terms, but with those "only come out at night" characters you expect in a top notch thriller.

    Mary Astor is most effective as the barfly (couldn’t make her a prostitute, though it is more than obvious) – and after her performance in the garish "Desert Fury" it’s nice to see her in black-and-white again. We first meet her in a pub in which Van Heflin runs for sanctuary, the lighting there has us admiring the way she has held up, but when we move to the harsher lighting of her apartment (the lamp hanging on a cord is unshaded), we realize that the first impression was too kind. It’s a magnificent performance – perhaps the best that I’ve seen of her.

    Barry Kroeger, whose altogether too infrequent appearances included such noir classics as "Cry of the City" and "Gun Crazy," makes the most of his few moments as an underworld "enforcer" who would be quite willing to kill Ryan for a price. While Ryan seems to be a man who is on the verge of violence at any second, barely able to restrain himself, Kroeger is even more chilling. His calm, rational demeanor puts him in a different class of predator – he’s good at what he does and he’s used to doing it, like Alan Ladd’s character in "This Gun For Hire" we can be sure that when committing murder, he feels "Fine, just fine."

    Janet Leigh appears as Heflin’s wife – it’s an early turn for her, and while it is a most stereotypically written "wifey" role, she invests it with all that she has, but the ending is such that we have to wonder just how she will react. Right before that we have a taut scene with Heflin about to confront Ryan while Kroeger is watching. The tension is almost unbearable, all done through editing and camerawork and not one line of dialogue.

    Zinnemann would continue to look at war’s effects on those who came home in "The Men" as well as "Teresa" and in "Hatful Of Rain" – the man may be the most unheralded of classic film directors, but his resume includes Oscar winners such as "High Noon" and "A Man For All Seasons" as well as such nailbiters as this film and the original "Day of the Jackal."

  3. IMDBReviewer

    August 1, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    This grim look a couple of demobbed soldiers continuing their private war at home rarely get mentioned in lists of essential noirs; maybe, upon release in 1949, it was just a little too close for comfort — hinting a truths the victorious American public were unwilling to acknowledge. If so, the film has yet to be rediscovered –or reappraised. Van Heflin is living out the modest American dream in sunny California when into his life strides an old combat buddy, Robert Ryan (at his most menacing, which is nothing to sneeze at). To his wife’s (Janet Leigh’s) consternation, Heflin takes it on the lam, and slowly we learned what happened, or may have happened, over in a POW camp in the European Theater of War. As Heflin’s flight takes him into seedier and more sinister surroundings, he links up with Mary Astor, living on the vague border of prostitution. (After helping to launch the cycle with her spectacular turn as Brigid O’Shaugnessey in The Maltese Falcon, Astor appeared in disappointingly few film noir; her expert performance here makes one wonder why, why, why?) Though the script opts for a strange and bitter "redemptive" ending, the acrid taste of Act of Violence lingers long.

  4. IMDBReviewer

    August 1, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    I caught this film on TCM recently. At first I wasn’t sure if I would like it but was sucked in thanks to the mystery of why Van Heflin’s character was being stalked by Robert Ryan. Revealing why would spoil it for most people, but I highly recommend watching the film. Quite frankly this could be another classic Hollywood film noir, as it takes place in 1940’s Los Angeles, and includes many famous landmarks, like the extinct "Angel’s Flight."

    Janet Leigh, in her fifth film, gives a fine performance as Heflin’s concerned wife, and Mary Astor is a real delight as the woman who befriends Heflin in his state of panic.

    This would make an excellent remake today, if done in the style of "L.A. Confidential." Catch this film sometime if you can. You’ll enjoy it.

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