Act of Violence

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Act of Violence
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Produced by William H. Wright
Screenplay by Robert L. Richards
Story by Collier Young
Starring Van Heflin
Robert Ryan
Janet Leigh
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography Robert Surtees
Edited by Conrad A. Nervig
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • December 21, 1948 (1948-12-21) (United States)
Running time
82 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,290,000[1]
Box office $1,129,000[1]

Act of Violence is a 1948 American film noir directed by Fred Zinnemann and adapted for the screen by Robert L. Richards from a story by Collier Young, featuring performances by Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, and Janet Leigh.[2][3]


Frank Enley (Van Heflin), returns home from World War II after surviving a German POW camp where the rest of his comrades had been murdered by guards during an escape attempt. The "war hero" is respected and praised for his fine character and good works in the California town of Santa Lisa, where he, his young wife and baby had settled after moving from the East. What his wife doesn't know is that Frank relocated them to get away from Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan), once his best friend, who also lived through the ordeal, though he was left with a crippled leg. In exchange for food, Frank had alerted the Nazi camp commander to their escape plans, thinking wrongly that the men would not be punished, and Joe is now determined finally to exact justice on Frank, whose location he has learned from a newspaper story commending him for his civic endeavors.

Frank's young wife Edith (Janet Leigh) is completely in the dark about his transgressions, while Joe's girlfriend knows everything about her man, but cannot dissuade him from his passion to set past wrongs right by seeing Frank dead. Frank must confront his dark past and the truth that he is a coward, not a hero.

Doggedly pursued by Joe, who has traveled cross-country to stalk Frank's family repeatedly at their house, Frank goes into hiding, leaving his confused wife behind. While away at a trade convention in Los Angeles, Frank enlists the aid of a past-her-prime prostitute, Pat (Mary Astor), who introduces him to a shady lawyer and a hitman, Johnny (Berry Kroeger). Frank lures Joe into meeting him at night outside the lonely Santa Lisa train station, where the hitman plans to drive up and kill Joe, the gunshot muffled by the noise of the train. Frank regrets the deal he has struck and tries to warn Joe at the station. Johnny is already waiting in his car with a gun, but before he can complete the job Frank jumps in front of the shot. Though wounded by the gunshot Frank manages to grab Johnny as he speeds off in his car, causing it to crash into a lamppost. Both Johnny and Frank are killed in the crash. Joe realizing what Frank has done, kneels by his old captain and tells the officers that he will be the one to tell Frank's wife.



According to MGM records the film earned $703,000 in the US and Canada and $426,000 overseas, resulting in a loss of $637,000.[1]

Critical response[edit]

Roger Westcombe, writing for the Big House Film Society, considers the film unsettling, and wrote, "Act of Violence... with a profundity, through its unsettling moral continuum, redolent not of Hollywood simplicities of good/evil but of the art one associates with Zinnemann’s European background. This contains a clue. Fred and his brother escaped their native Austria in 1938, but their parents, waiting for U.S. visas that never came, perished – separately – in concentration camps. The "survivor guilt" this awful closing engendered must resemble the emotional see-saw ride which fiction like the ethical pendulum of Act of Violence can only start to expiate."[4]

The staff at Variety magazine liked the film and gave it a positive review. They wrote, "The grim melodrama implied by its title is fully displayed in Acts of Violence...tellingly produced and played to develop tight excitement...The playing and direction catch plot aims and the characterizations are all topflight thesping. Heflin and Ryan deliver punchy performances that give substance to the menacing terror...It's grim business, unrelieved by lightness, and the players belt over their assignments under Zinnemann's knowing direction. Janet Leigh points up her role as Heflin's worried but courageous wife, while Phyllis Thaxter does well by a smaller part as Ryan's girl. A standout is the brassy, blowzy femme created by Mary Astor – a woman of the streets who gives Heflin shelter during his wild flight from fate."[5]

The film was entered into the 1949 Cannes Film Festival.[6]

Currently, it holds a 100% "Fresh" rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 9 reviews.


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ Act of Violence at the Internet Movie Database.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; December 25, 1948, p. 206.
  4. ^ Westcombe, Roger. Big House Film Society, film review, 2008. Last accessed: January 11, 2008.
  5. ^ Variety. Film review, December 21, 1948, p. 6. Last accessed: January 11, 2008.
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Act of Violence". Retrieved 2009-01-07. 

External links[edit]