Friday, April 02, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Impact (1949)

I recently noticed a curious pattern to my movie viewing: in the last two months I've watched 10 films with one-word titles! The latest movie on that list, IMPACT, was a really interesting film noir with terrific location photography in San Francisco.

Successful San Francisco businessman Walter Williams (Brian Donlevy) dotes on his wife Irene (Helen Walker). Irene seemingly has it all, including a wealthy, loving husband who showers her with roses, jewelry, and affection. Unfortunately for Walter, Irene does not return his love; Irene and her lover (Tony Barrett) have devised a plan to kill Walter. However, things don't go quite as planned, and Walter survives the attempt on his life, although he is assumed dead when his car explodes in an accident.

The wounded Walter staggers into the town of Larkspur, Idaho, where he takes a job as an auto mechanic at a gas station owned by war widow Marsha Peters (Ella Raines). Walter quietly nurses his hurt and anger at his wife's betrayal, avidly collecting stories from California newspapers about the arrest of his "widow" for plotting his murder. But Walter can't continue his idyllic existence in Larkspur forever...and more twists and turns are ahead.

IMPACT is a stylish, well-plotted film with an excellent cast and an absorbing story. The movie's atmospheric photography was by Ernest Laszlo. There are many great shots of San Francisco, including the cable cars and Chinatown. The quiet little town of Larkspur, Idaho -- filmed in Larkspur, California -- provides a contrast with the big city. I loved the film's visual details, such as the now old-fashioned Coca-Cola cooler in the gas station or the ad for Borden's ice cream painted on the side of a building in Larkspur.

Brian Donlevy is touching as the rejected husband, who is a business whiz but learns the hard way the woman he adored didn't love him. There is a scene early on where he breaks down after learning the truth that I found very moving. Donlevy's Walter doesn't stay down for long, however, as his natural strength and integrity once more rise to the fore, encouraged by pretty Marsha (Raines).

Ella Raines doesn't appear until about an hour into the film, but she is quietly effective as the open, sunny small-town widow who takes a shine to the initially taciturn Williams. The last section of IMPACT calls to mind Raines' role in PHANTOM LADY (1944), as she turns detective in order to help Williams.

Helen Walker is absolutely terrific as the duplicitous Irene. At the TCM Movie Morlocks blog, Moira Finnie has recently chronicled Walker's life and career in Parts 1 and 2. Part 2 focuses on Walker's film noir credits, including IMPACT and NIGHTMARE ALLEY. It's a valuable history of a relatively little-known actress whose career deserves wider attention. Moira writes that Walker was initially to be cast in the role played by Ella Raines, but Walker instead wanted to play Irene, a part with "guts." Walker comes close to stealing the movie with her fascinating performance.

The deep cast also includes Charles Coburn as Lt. Quincy (complete with Irish brogue!), the San Francisco detective working to solve the niggling questions about the "death" of Walter Williams. The more details Quincy collects, the more the story seems to unravel.

One-time silent actress Mae Marsh plays Marsha's warm, sensible mother. Jason Robards Sr. is the judge in the final section of the movie. Clarence Kolb, Anna May Wong, and Philip Ahn complete the cast.

Some reviewers question whether IMPACT should be considered a true example of film noir, as much of it takes place during broad daylight. Perhaps it's more of a "crime drama," but the spooky attempted murder sequence, a foot chase through Chinatown stairways, and the evil femme fatale cause me to lean toward considering it film noir. I'd enjoying hearing opinions on that from others who have seen the movie.

IMPACT was directed by Arthur Lubin, who began directing in 1934. Lubin directed many B movies as well as the Francis the Talking Mule series. Lubin's career seems to have been inextricably linked with talking animals, as he had a long association with the MISTER ED TV series. Lubin's name is familiar to me as he directed many episodes of my favorite TV series, MAVERICK.

IMPACT is in the public domain. My understanding is that some DVD prints are shorter than the film's 111-minute running time, so exercise caution. The blog Noir of the Week recommends a DVD from Image Entertainment.

I recently recorded the film from a Southern California public TV station; the print was of good quality and was the proper running time.

IMPACT is a very entertaining film which deserves wider recognition. Recommended.


Blogger mel said...

That's an interesting observation regarding one-word titles.

Apparently Alfred Hitchcock had a penchant for them: Notorious, Rope, Frenzy, Psycho, Vertigo... The list goes on and on.

9:44 PM  

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