A Movie A Day: Quint on ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948)
You don’t know what made him the way he is. I do.
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.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Wednesday, September 24th: HOUDINI (1953)
Thursday, September 25th: MONEY FROM HOME (1953)
Friday, September 26th: PAPA’S DELICATE CONDITION (1963)
Saturday, September 27th: DILLINGER (1945)
Sunday, September 28th: BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965)
Monday, September 29th: DAISY KENYON (1947)
Tuesday, September 30th: LAURA (1944)
Tomorrow we jump to HOUDINI starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, who we follow over from this film. See you folks then!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Sept. 24, 2008, 2:36 a.m. CST
Sept. 24, 2008, 3:31 a.m. CST
David Thomson's The New Biographical Dictionary of Film for a great write up on the great Robert Ryan.
Sept. 24, 2008, 4:59 a.m. CST
This sounds like a good movie, Quint, I miss my TCM and the OLD AMC
Sept. 24, 2008, 5:38 a.m. CST
They try to hard with the whole nightmarish scenario - wandering round wildly trying to escape and into 'a different world' ta da! It seems the most conscious attempt to fit in overt expressionist ideas but I think he should have focussed on a more taut portrayal of guilt. So - decent idea, started well, excellent performances but lost its way.
Sept. 24, 2008, 9:12 a.m. CST
I hesitate to feed a troll, but please. Everyone who reads and comments on AMAD regularly exalts this as the best feature on AICN right now. Stop trying to bring it down. Most of us can relate to picking up more DVDs than we have time to watch. They're pretty cheap right now, in case you haven't noticed.
Sept. 24, 2008, 10:10 a.m. CST
I never would have sought out this title if not for this column. Keep up the good work Quint!
Sept. 24, 2008, 11:02 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
That sucker is almost three hours long.
Sept. 24, 2008, 12:05 p.m. CST
From the loosk of it a LOT of these films are from box sets, collected by actor or genre. As such, they're not actually going to be that expensive per movie, and he's going to end up with a lot of films he hasn't seen or even heard of before. I doubt he's just buying unseen films at random.
Sept. 24, 2008, 12:42 p.m. CST
I've never "boughten" a DVD... Is that anything like buying one?
Sept. 24, 2008, 6:55 p.m. CST
This is one of my all time favorites. I am a huge Robert Ryan fan, and also a fan of Van Heflin (he is also great in the original 3:10 to Yuma and the Prowler). One of the reasons I think this movie has such a hold on me is because you can tell that Zinnemann had such strong feelings for the film. He fled Europe during WWII but his parents couldn't leave and died in the holocaust. Survivor guilt permeates this film, a feeling Mr. Zinnemann knew all to well. I just wish you mentioned Mary Astor's great performance in the film.
Sept. 24, 2008, 10:56 p.m. CST
by Red Dawn Don
My most favoite movie memory of Robert Ryan is his role in THE OUTFIT. RR plays the head of the mob (the outfit) that Robert Duvall is robbing out of revenge. The outfit murdered RD's brother. RD has a great crime partner in Joe Don Baker. The ending was so COOL with the sudden "unemployment" of the bodyguards and the escape through police lines by dressing as ambulance drivers. I loved THE OUTFIT long before Quenton (sp?) Tarantino praised it.