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misswonderly3

Act of Violence: a great noir

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TCM is airing one of my very favourite film noirs, *Act of Violence*, this Thursday at 4:00pm.

If you've never seen this 1948 Fred Zinnemann tale of hidden secrets, vengeance, and guilt, make a point of watching it or program your DVR to record it.

 

It doesn't follow the stereotypical noir trajectory, about an innocent man being drawn into a web of iniquity.

In fact, the iniquity has already happened before the film begins. And there's no femme fatale, just wholesome young Janet Leigh playing a loving wife.

I won't say anything more about the plot.

But I will say, this one's a winner. With two great actors (both of whom made plenty of noirs), Van Heflin and Robert Ryan, and a fascinating cameo by Mary Astor (who's not afraid to play a faded washed-up floozie who "gets her kicks"...), you know you're in for a wild ride, even if it's just watching these fine performances.

 

But *Act of Violence* has also got fantastic cinematography, almost textbook "noir", with swirling staircases, angled dark alleys full of dustbins, and unsavoury night hangouts (not deserving of the word "nightclub") that seem to stay open all night.

 

And it's got a story that offers the viewer a feast of food for thought. The blurring of "good/bad" lines is never stronger in noir than in this film.

Some critic - I forget who - dismissed *Act of Violence*, denigrating the very things about it I thought made it exceptional. He didn't like the character development, thought it was too "pat" or something. My take on this film is just the opposite - I think the characters are very complex.

Well, we can all argue about it if you watch it or record it this Thursday.

Get out your fedoras.

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I couldn't agree more about Act of Violence. Anyone who hasn't seen it doesn't know what they're missing. It's one of Ryan's signature roles, and while I won't deal with the specifics of the plot, I found it to have a certain amount in common with the great Richard Widmark / Richard Basehart court martial film, Time Limit, in that complexity of character and ambiguity between good and evil are central to both movies, and both films do an exceptional job of portraying the tension between them.

 

To digress only slightly, I find it somewhat disheartening that even many organizations like the AFI and PBS seem to play along with a "winner take all" mentality, in concentrating their attention in "classic films" to a relatively small handful of brand name stars, to the exclusion of equally great actors like Ryan. PBS in particular is guilty of this, as practically every film they show seems to be taken from the AFI's top 100 list. It'd be nice to see films like Act of Violence or Crossfire on PBS for a change, instead of the 10th time around for Casablanca or Adam's Rib.

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Too bad it's being dumped in the afternoon hours. I wish they had done some better scheduling of Astor's films. The prime time hours are all films shown often on TCM and well known. Her lesser known films were shown in the early morning and afternoons.

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For my 10,000th post I am going to present a short list (sorry missw, I know you hate lists LOL) of about ten films that have special significance for me. And CROSSFIRE is on that list.

 

Getting back to the original topic, ACT OF VIOLENCE is almost as good. Though I tend to favor the RKO noir output over MGM's.

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Mary's character was probably a femme fatale in her younger days methinks.....:D

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I love *Act of Violence*, MissW. One of the great noirs, and simply a great film. Mary Astor, who played so many upper-crust women, is just terrific as a down-and-outer.

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I'm glad quite a few people here have already seen it at some point, and appreciated it.

Here are a couple of examples of the great, "classic", noir images from the film.

(Apologies for the dingy quality of the pics.)

 

ActOfViolence_Tunnel.jpg

Van doesn't know what to do, he's desperate. Maybe running down a subway tunnel will help...

 

act_of_violence.jpg

Oh my gawd, such delicious noir cinematography. I love this world, I don't know why. It's mysterious...

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I think parts of it may have been filmed in the seedy Bunker Hill area of LA......

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Some years ago when I got on a serious kick of seeking out noir films I would record films on TCM (remember the "Darkness After Dawn" block of films on Saturday mornings) and buy dvd releases of noir films (usually packaged in sets with 2 or more films on a dvd and several dvds in the set). The "Film noir classic collection volume #4" has *Act Of Violence* along with 9 other real good noir films. Its one of the very best noir DVD sets ever done and well worth looking for and buying. And there is audio commentary with the films as well. I know that Robert Ryan gets a good amount of talk on the forums here, and that's well deserved. But Van Heflin isn't brought up much, and he was one terrific actor, especially in noir films (like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, etc.)

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Heflin's one of the many first rate actors from the midcentury era who never quite had the charisma to carry their names forward after their deaths. You might say the same thing about Ryan, Dana Andrews, Ray Milland, and Glenn Ford. They were all superb craftsmen who could play many roles from romantic leads to bums, but they never had the "kevorka" that surrounded the Gables or the Stewarts or the Cagneys. IMO the beauty of TCM is that we get to see these great "craft" actors with the depth that they richly deserve.

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Including Milland in this group of names seems a bit of a disservice to him. I think he had a higher profile during his life and today.

 

Just barely, if at all. Outside the TCM circles, how many Milland movies has anyone under the age of about 70 likely to have seen? The Lost Weekend and Dial M For Murder, perhaps, but what else? I'm not talking about movie buffs, but the generic PBS viewer who loves "old movies" but "doesn't have the time" to go much beyond the obvious inner circle of films. Milland has the two abovementioned films, Andrews has Laura, Ford has Gilda, and any or all of them may be still known for an iconic western that I've never seen, but none of them are nearly on the *current* visibility level of Gable, Cooper, Stewart, Wayne, Bogart, Cagney, Tracy, Astaire, Gene Kelly, Brando, or other stars of that ilk. And Ryan, who may have been the best actor of them all, is barely a blip on the radar outside the realm of true movie buffs. It's partly what he got for accepting one complicated bad guy role after another and eschewing easy romantic lead parts.

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But just THE LOST WEEKEND alone gives Milland, IMHO , legendary status. None of the other actors on your list has a role anywhere close to this in impact, visibility, and remembrance.

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But just THE LOST WEEKEND alone gives Milland, IMHO , legendary status. None of the other actors on your list has a role anywhere close to this in impact, visibility, and remembrance.

 

I think that just says more about your age than anything else, and I'm almost certainly older than you are. I'm not doubting the significance of The Lost Weekend, but it's been 67 years and it's not Casblanca. or Meet Me In St. Louis, or even (God help us) To Kill a Mockingbird in terms of the number of people today who are likely to have seen it. That's all I'm talking about. It might elevate his *critical* stature above a Heflin or an Andrews or a Ford (though definitely not above Ryan's), but in terms of remembrance he's still way below all those other stars I mentioned below.

 

Now personally I'd much rather watch most of Ray Milland's films than those of Astaire or Gene Kelly or Spencer Tracy, and I'd rather watch paint dry than watch another movie with Gary Cooper, but again, I'm simply talking about current name recognition.

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I'm not sure about that. THE LOST WEEKEND also has the niche of being the first film to deal with alcoholism. Since alcoholism continues to be a major problem in society, that alone may give the movie "legs". It is certainly one of Wilder's 4 most remembered films, along with SLIH, TA, and SB, all of which are legendary.

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Ray Milland is probably best remembered today for starring in the Hitchcock film *Dial M For Murder* . That is certainly the most likely Milland film to be viewed today by a young audience as well (by offering both Hitchcock and Grace Kelly). Hopefully after seeing an actor in that one "popular classic" film some people will be inspired to watch that actor in other films and discover those more "obscure" films like *The Lost Weekend* .

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Oh, fi, as usual, you've "derailed" this thread.

 

(Hey, I just realized...you know that ancient expression, it's used in Shakespeare plays etc. "O fie !", meaning, "for shame". Well, I just unintentionally used a Shakespearean phrase to reprimand finance. Never mind...)

 

Anyway, I don't mind a little derailment.

 

Van Heflin of course was in *Shane*, one of the most famous Westerns of them all.

Robert Ryan, never mind all the great movies he was in before the 60s, co-starred in the very famous Sam Peckinpah film, *The Wild Bunch*. I bet more young people today have heard of that than *Lost Weekend*.

(Don't get me wrong, I like LW.)

Dana Andrews' most famous movie, at least among even casual film-fanciers, has to be *Laura*. I would say *Laura* has a reasonably substantial cult status.

 

And Glenn Ford? Hm, that's tougher. Well, again in terms of even light-weight movie lovers, don't most of them know about *The Big Heat* ?

 

(By the way, I don't think I've ever used the term "film-fanciers" on these boards before. Ok, I've tried it out but I don't think I'll use it again. It sounds kind of silly, like we're talking about dogs or something. "The typical poodle-fancier likes to trim their doggy's fur.")

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Its not a question of which is the "better" or more "culturally important" film. There's no doubt that the Hitchcock film has been seen by more people and is more remembered. And it is the film more likely to be viewed today by the younger generation.

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I don't want to get all sociological on you, but THE LOST WEEKEND is far more sociologically significant than any other film mentioned on this thread, That's not to say that sociology is a prime area of daily conversation among the under -50 set.

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And Glenn Ford? Hm, that's tougher. Well, again in terms of even light-weight movie lovers, don't most of them know about *The Big Heat*?

 

I'm not sure about that, but Gilda is another story.

 

(By the way, I don't think I've ever used the term "film-fanciers" on these boards before. Ok, I've tried it out but I don't think I'll use it again. It sounds kind of silly, like we're talking about dogs or something. "The typical poodle-fancier likes to trim their doggy's fur.")

 

When I used to scout books in England in the late 80's , one of the shops put my books in a plastic tote bag that read "I Read The Racing Pigeon - - - "Britain's only weekly for pigeon fanciers." I "fancied" that bag so much that when I got back to Washington I had 5000 of them made for my own shop, and somewhere around the clutter of the house I still have one left.

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I don't want to get all sociological on you, but THE LOST WEEKEND is far more sociologically significant than any other film mentioned on this thread, That's not to say that sociology is a prime area of daily conversation among the under -50 set.

 

No question about that, but it's still not what I was talking about. The average member of the under-50 set today isn't much interested in serious drama of any type, let alone some "ancient" black and white "sociology" movie from their grandfather's time.

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The fact that you have "no doubt" is not the sort of data I had in mind. DIALM is second-tier Hitchcock. THE LOST WEEKEND is first-tier Wilder. If you guys are marginalizing THE LOST WEEKEND because it's a "black and white" film, you are also marginalizing most of the films starring Gable, Cagney, Cooper, Stewart, and all the other first-tier actors that are much-better remembered than Milland.

 

Edited by: finance on Mar 25, 2014 4:31 PM

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O Fie ! (I kind of like this...) Nobody has said anything about "black and white". (Not even referring to the infamous cookies in that Seinfeld episode.)

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