A United Artists release of 111 minutes, Impact looks like an A-movie wearing a B-suit: it doesn’t fit. The movie starts off noir in San Francisco, veers into bucolic redemption hokum in a small mid-western town, and then returns to Frisco for a turn at melodrama, ever ready to lapse into a comic interlude – and even slapstick. The plot is entirely derivative, with obvious parallels to Fritz Lang’s Fury (1936) and Busby Berkeley’s They Made Me a Criminal (1939). A cheating wife conspires with her lover to kill her wealthy husband, but the ill-planned job is botched, the husband survives but is believed dead, and the wife is charged with his murder.
The direction by Arthur Lubin is tight and the deep-focus photography on the streets of Frisco from Ernest Laszlo (Manhandled, DOA, M (1951), The Well, Kiss Me Deadly, The Big Knife, While the City Sleeps) is top-notch, particularly in a pursuit though Chinatown late in the picture, and during the murder attempt on a mountain road at night near the beginning of the picture which is solidly noir in its immediate fiery and darkly dramatic aftermath.
The dames hold this picture together. Helen Walker is a treat as the conniving wife of the businessman played by Brian Donlevy, who sleepwalks through the picture. Ella Raines is the wholesome country girl who falls for Donlevy, and Anna May Wong is engaging as the wife’s maid. Veteran character actor Charles Coburn is polished as a cop.
Surprisingly it all seems to hang together well enough, and on balance is quite enjoyable.