Impact (1949): Noir Mash-Up

Impact (1949)

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.

Impact (1949)

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.

Impact (1949)

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.

5 thoughts on “Impact (1949): Noir Mash-Up”

  1. Hi! Tony,
    This review is just like your review of the film Gattaca short, concise and to the “point.”

    I must admit that I have watched this film(Impact)only once.

    Therefore, I must seek this title out again in order to give this film “the once over again.”

    Other than Silver and Ursini’s Noir Style…
    I wonder if there are any good books on the market that focus on cinematographers and film noir? I’am just thinking outloud…
    Take care!
    Dcd 😉


    The story is by Norman Krasna and the film by Fritz Lang is his first in America.
    quote: “Spencer Tracy gives his top performance as the upright young man until he’s involved in a kidnapping mess through mistaken identity, Escaping a necktie lynching party, the jailhouse is burned down, despite the meagre protective efforts of the constabulary, and legally he is dead. But somehow he had managed to escape and he is intent on vengeance on the 22 (including one woman who had whirled the igniting torch into the kerosened pyre at the jailhouse door), who are ultimately brought to trial.”

    Again, life as a chance series of messes such as mistaken identities and the young man is legally dead and beyond reach of the law and vows revenge. He has been caught in a spider web of events beyond himself. This reminds me of the writings of Kafka. Inscrutable events amid which is a fire of purpose, in this event revenge. Vengeance on the 22 ultimately brought to trial is the height of the film and Walter Abel and the court room scene are riveting and cast a dark irony but the sweetness of revenge.Tracy is slow paced then becomes the dominating character from passive to dominating events. Survival but believed dead is a derivative plot present in both films and adds to the eeriness and irony of both films. Tracy hides and his inaction and permitting the trial to proceed is a grim turn at poetic justice.


  3. Edward, you should be writing your own reviews! You have crafted a deeply drawn characterisation of Fury, which clearly draws from your own philosophical concerns and your interest in mysticism. Indeed, looking at film noir from such a perspective has boundless possibilities.

    I have updated the post to hot-link to my reviews of Fury and They Made Me a Criminal


  4. Thanks Dcd. There is definitely the need for a good book on noir cinematographers. There is a great film documentary on the great noir cinematographers, Visions of Light: Noir Cinematography (1992), which I talk about in this post.

    Yes Alexander, it is worth seeking out.


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