Act of Violence (1948)
The New York Times Review 6 May 2007 by Charles Taylor:
“This trim, tense, little-known 1948 noir, one of 10 included in the Warner Brothers set ”Film Noir, Volume 4,” is an anomaly among the more prestigious pictures directed by Fred Zinnemann (whose best and best known include ”From Here to Eternity” and ”The Nun’s Story”). In the wordless sequences when the lead, Van Heflin (right, with Mary Astor), wanders deserted Los Angeles alleys and back streets, the shadows and seemingly abandoned buildings hovering over him (the movie was shot by Robert Surtees), ”Act of Violence” becomes a distillation of noir itself.
Even if Mr. Heflin were the last man on earth, he’d still be pursued by his own guilt. This fine, underrated actor plays a family man, successful building contractor and decorated war pilot who spent a year in a German prison camp. His life, the picture of middle-class success, begins to crumble when a tall, limping stranger (the great Robert Ryan, evoking terror and pity in the way only he could) shows up in his small California town. The man was Mr. Heflin’s closest Army buddy, and the possessor of the secret that gives the lie to his model-citizen persona.
Mr. Zinnemann’s precise, pointed direction suggests that postwar boosterism was the mask for the unspeakable things the war had taught veterans about themselves, about humanity. Hiding behind drawn curtains in his darkened suburban home, Mr. Heflin is a man who, at least in his head, has traded one prison camp for another. (Warner Brothers, July 31, US$59.92; also available on a double-feature disc with ”Mystery Street,” July 31, US$20.97) “