Post-war noir nihilism, that ends up as a precursor to A History of Violence and...Run & Kill of all movies.
The first act of Act of Violence is noir as horror. Idyllic small-town ease is encroached by Robert Ryan’s menace, relentlessly hunting Van Heflin’s family man for unknown reasons. Heflin’s dawning shift to sweaty anxiety is top-notch suspense. With gradual seething intensity, truth spills out among the shadows: a history of survivor’s guilt and vengeful hate, the scars of war still raw and bleeding back home.
The cat-&-mouse pursuit between Ryan and Heflin is a thrilling tragedy. Zinnemann maintains a blood-in-the-water tension while peeling away hardened exteriors to reveal the pain beneath. The women in their lives are not fatale influences, but rather femme gentille appealing to each man’s wounded soul.
While its opening pulsed with horror DNA, Act of Violence’s final fateful confrontation recalls showdowns upon the frontier, a solemn face-off amid flittering railway debris and whispering breeze.