Frank Enley is a successful building contractor, a pillar of the community, and is adored by his gorgeous child-like bride Edith (played by a barely 20-year-old Janet Leigh). But old boy Frank has a dirty secret from his past. . .seems he was sort of an American kapo in a German POW camp during WWII, and he sold out his GI buddies for a few good meals by revealing their escape attempt to the Nazis. All his buddies were killed. . .except one, Joe Parkson, who was left a cripple. Parkson has devoted his post-War life to hunting down Enley.
Act Of Violence has a simple, straight-forward revenge plot, but the film is well-made and asks a fairly sophisticated series of questions on morality, and features a wide variety of psychological misfits in its cast of characters.
Robert Ryan plays Joe Parkson, and he’s pretty creepy for most of the film, as crippled mentally as he is physically. Ryan gimps along on his bum right leg (it sounds like sandpaper dragging over wood, and in one memorable scene that’s all the we hear as Enley and his wife cower in their kitchen, listening to him shuffle around the outside of their house), gripped with a mania to kill Enley.
Van Heflin plays Enley, and he does a fine job as a man who sinks lower and lower as he processes his own craven nature. Enley hits rock bottom when, on the run from Parkson, he meets up with a cheap bar tramp (played by the old movie queen Mary Astor) who introduces him to a sleazy lawyer and an even sleazier thug, setting up the film’s rather unsatisfying and convenient denouement.
We don’t see much of Janet Leigh, unfortunately, although she still manages to look hot even in her character’s frumpy pajamas. . .and she does a decent job playing the innocent dollhouse wife (in one early scene, before she and Frank are aware of Parkson’s threat, Frank is about to leave on a fishing trip, and she pretends to be upset, but when Frank says he is willing to cancel the trip, with the implication they can have lots of sex, she becomes truly mortified, and quickly shoos Frank out of the house) who gradually comes to terms with the realization her husband does not belong on a pedestal.
Not-quite-great (because of its easy-way-out ending), but still pretty compelling viewing even sixty-two years after its first release.
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