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Trailers from Hell: Josh Olson on Noir ‘Act of Violence,’ Starring Robert Ryan and Van Heflin

Trailers from Hell: Josh Olson on Noir 'Act of Violence,' Starring Robert Ryan and Van Heflin

Josh Olson on Noir! kicks off this week at Trailers from Hell, with screenwriter Olson introducing Fred Zinneman’s “Act of Violence,” starring Ryan, Heflin, a world-weary Mary Astor and a 21-year-old Janet Leigh.

Moviegoers seeking easy answers should steer clear of Fred
Zinneman’s hardboiled thriller from 1948, ACT OF VIOLENCE. Zinneman uses the
then recent horrors of World War II as the springboard for this complex
morality play starring Van Heflin and Robert Ryan as two ex-POWs whose shared
humanity has been corrupted by the Nazi prison camps. Just how corrupt they are
is the subject of Robert Richards’ screenplay (from the story by Collier
Young). The cast, including Janet Leigh and Phyllis Thaxter, is interesting
from top to bottom and features a vivid turn from Mary Astor as a prostitute
who gives Heflin shelter.

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Mr. Olson keeps referring to the setting of ACT OF VIOLENCE as a "small town," but much of the film takes place in L.A., with extensive location shooting. You can even see Angel's Flight in Bunker Hill in a shot in the trailer. The "small town" where Heflin and Leigh live is actually a growing California suburb.

The whole WWII POW camp backstory (involving both Heflin's and Ryan's characters) sounds like an intriguing variation on the plot of STALAG 17, making this film play out to me like a sequel to a film made five years later!

The railroad climax looks forward to Zinnemann's own HIGH NOON four years later (and, by extension, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST).

Finally, the scene where Ryan barges in on Leigh to harass her about Heflin's actions during the war looks forward to the opening scene of KILL BILL VOL. 1 . If the Bride had barged in on "the good Dr. Bell" and not his wife, "Jeannie Bell" (aka Vernita Green), we would have gotten the Ryan/Leigh scene from ACT OF VIOLENCE.

References to Billy Wilder, Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino in a film released in 1948…not bad!

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