Bad Movie Wednesday is reserved for productions that were never dead on arrival. It’s a place to review movies that might be worth a couple of hours of your time. I try to find something amiss with everything I review. I may have difficulty with this one. It’s Act of Violence from MGM in 1948. I will just give a sketch of the plot, along with some screen shots from Turner Classic Movies. Details are from Wikipedia.
The opening scene shows Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan) going to his apartment in New York City. He’s preparing to leave for California in a hurry. He packs some serious heat.
After a few days on a Greyhound bus Joe arrives at the home of Frank Enley (Van Heflin). Frank is not there. Frank’s pretty wife Edith (Janet Leigh) answers the door and tells Joe that Frank has gone fishing. That’s a pistol under Joe’s coat, and it’s pointed right at Edith’s unsuspecting belly.
Joe is out for revenge. Frank was a fellow prisoner of the Germans in World War Two, recently concluded. Frank told the SS commander of the prison camp about a planned escape. He had hoped to forestall the almost certain murder of the escapees, and the camp commander gave Frank his word as an officer there would be no reprisal. It was a double cross, and all the escapees were murdered, except for Joe. Out of the Army following the war Joe has made it his life’s work to extract retribution against Frank.
Nothing stands in the way of Joe’s quest. He deserts his sweet girlfriend, Ann Sturges (Phyllis Thaxter), who comes out to California in an attempt to stop Joe from destroying their lives. Frank knows he cannot escape Joe’s wrath. He can’t go to the police, because that would expose his complicity in the prisoners’ murder. He goes on a drunken binge and gets hooked up with Johnny (Berry Kroeger). Johnny will solve Frank’s problems, for a price.
Frank emerges from his drunken haze and is informed Johnny has set up a rendezvous at the railway station in Frank’s home town. Frank knows what he must do. He spends his final hours with Edith and then slips away to intercept Johnny.
At the murderous rendezvous Frank warns Joe and takes the fatal bullet, himself. As Johnny attempts to escape, Frank forces his car to crash before dying on the street.
Ann and Joe go off together, and that’s the end of the movie. They roll the credits.
This is not a bad movie. The action moves, the characters are realistic and reasonably motivated. Acting is up to par.
One thing I find wrong with the plot is the cab that takes Frank away for the fatal meeting with Johnny. Frank has told the cabbie when to come pick him up at his house, and Frank decoys Edith upstairs while he exits the front door, just as the cab rolls up. When was the last time a cab ever arrived at just the second you scheduled it? The cab should have been waiting at least a few minutes in advance, or else Frank should have arranged for a pickup away from his house.
Another matter involves some basic physics. Johnny is in his car. He’s going to take his shot through the open driver’s side window. Frank rushes up and takes the shot, himself. Johnny starts to drive away. Frank rushes to the car and reaches through the open window, grabbing hold of Johnny. Johnny races down the street with Frank hanging on. Johnny crashes the car into a pole and burns to death. Frank is not thrown 20 yards from the point of impact. He falls to the street right where the car hits the pole. Newton would be appalled.
Joe was one of those who attempted to escape the POW camp, and he was left for dead by the guards (ended up with a game leg). And he still managed to escape the SS? Somebody is tugging at my credulity.
This does not appear to be a high-dollar production for those days. But, “According to MGM records the film earned $703,000 in the US and Canada and $426,000 overseas, resulting in a loss of $637,000.” Where did they spend $1.766 on a black and white movie that runs 82 minutes, has no elaborate sets or special effects, and employs actors yet to make huge names for themselves? Keep in mind that Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho for $806,947, and it also features Janet Leigh, although she gets killed before the half-way point.