Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vengeance is mine; I will repay

By now you've probably seen the TCM promos for their September look at movies in which characters try to gain revenge for things that happened to them in the past. TCM is airing the movies every Thursday night in prime time. Even though I didn't have my modem up and running last week, to be honest, the highlighted movies were westerns that I didn't particularly care about. This week, though, sees some more interesting movies, even if they have their flaws. One of them is Act of Violence, airing at 9:30 PM ET.

Van Heflin stars as Frank Enley, whom we don't quite see at the beginning of the movie. The beginning deals with Joe (Robert Ryan), who we quickly find is stalking Frank and would like to kill him! In fact, Joe has come all the way west to California to find Frank. Frank, for his part, realizes that Joe is onto him, and tries to keep one step ahead of Joe, although this involves acting secretively and alarming his wife Edith (a young Janet Leigh), who knows Joe wants something with Frank, but doesn't know what.

Eventually, Frank tells Edith: he and Joe served in the war together, and with their unit wound up in a Nazi POW camp. Most of the soldiers wanted to escape, but Frank figured that if they did, the Nazis would discover the plot and kill all the attempted escapees. That, it turns out, is precisely what happened, although Joe knows it happened with a bit of help from Frank. Frank returned home from the war a "hero", but is nothing of the sort.

Of course, Joe is still on Frank's tail, and nearly catches Frank in the lobby of a hotel, forcing Frank to run for his life, where he quickly winds up with a prostitute with a heart of gold (Mary Astor). Our PHG has some friends with shady mob-like connections who could help Frank by eliminating Joe, but it's for a price....

Act of Violence is an interesting movie, but certainly not a perfect one. The beginning of the movie jumps around too much, but the ending is much too neat and tidy, as if the writers didn't know how to come up with a satisfying ending that the folks administering the Production Code would approve of. The characterizations are quite good. Robert Ryan was excellent at playing the bad guy, as he did in Crossfire a year earlier. Heflin's character is morally ambiguous, of a kind that Heflin would go on to play quite well in Shane or 3:10 to Yuma. Astor is a revelation as the thoroughly unglamorous woman. The atmosphere is surprisingly dark when you consider that the movie was made at MGM, the studio known for its glitz. However, MGM was nearing the end of the Louis B. Mayer era, and the man who would go on to succeed Mayer as head of production, Dore Schary, wanted movies to go in a more socially conscious direction. Indeed, it was also around this time that MGM made Border Incident. Most of these movies weren't MGM's A product, however, which remained the musicals and other prestige movies.

Act of Violence has gotten a DVD release, so you don't have to wait for TCM's showings.

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