As seen in THE DARK PAGES!
the force with which two lives come together. Sometimes for good, sometimes for
Brian Donlevy in a film noir?
I’m there! Brian Donlevy in a film
directed by Arthur Lubin, the gent who brought us the Francis the
movies and TV’s Mr. Ed?!
Um, oh my, look at the time,
Normally that would have
been my reaction, but you see,
I actually came across United Artists’ Impact
early one Saturday morning, and
I was hooked. I sincerely apologize for my skepticism, and I assure my fellow
film noir/suspense film fans that you’ll be on the edge of your seat watching
this twisty yet surprisingly poignant film noir.
I first saw Brian Donlevy’s movies when I was a kid, watching
science fiction thrillers with my older brother: The Quatermass Xperiment
(1955) and Quatermass II: Enemy From Space, a.k.a The Creeping Unknown
(1957). We of Team Bartilucci, especially my husband Vinnie, first got to know
and love Donlevy in the movie versions of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass
science-fiction novels, directed in England by Val Guest. Admittedly, Donlevy’s
portrayal of scholarly British scientist Dr. Bernard Quatermass goes through
considerable changes, probably to attract us excitable Yanks. Vinnie gets a
kick out of these particular flicks; he feels that half the fun of Donlevy’s
portrayal is that viewers half-expect Quatermass to just punch the evil aliens’
lights out, saving the world in no time!
|Impact's opening scene! All this, and proper spelling, too!|
Over the course of Donlevy’s 46-year career, the two-fisted star’s 101 films and
TV appearances included the 1942 version of
The Glass Key;
Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty
and Beau Geste
Donlevy earned an Oscar nomination for Best
Supporting Actor as sadistic Sergeant Markoff. Impact
shows us a more
vulnerable side of Donlevy, and I, for one, like it! His career and colorful
life could fill a blog, a book, or even a movie of its own, including Donlevy’s
war record and valor in battle (14-year-old Donlevy lied about his age to join
the Army). He performed in stage plays, and then acted in both silent and sound
films. His career continued to soar with such box-office hits as The
Remarkable Andrew; In Old Chicago; Wake Island; I Wanted Wings;
(which I’ve never seen, and want to. Paging
The versatile Donlevy was even a model for illustrator J.C. Leyendecker!
of sister acts? Well, Impact
was a brother act! Meet the Popkin
Leo C. Popkin (1914—2011) produced D.O.A. (1950); The Well (1951); And Then There Were None (1945). In fact, the Popkin brothers actually produced two movie versions of that beloved Agatha Christie thriller, first published in the UK in 1939 under the now-decidedly un-PC title Ten Little Niggers—swiftly retitled to And Then There Were None for the 1945 movie. It was also remade in 1965 as Ten Little Indians. Heck, we could write a whole article about both of those movies, but we’ll save that for some other time!
- Harry M. Popkin (1906—1991) co-produced both D.O.A; The Second Woman (1950); and The Thief (1952), the latter being especially memorable because its stars, including Ray Milland and Rita Gam, never say a word throughout this entire thriller! But that, too, is an article for some another time!
seems to be one of those movies people either love or hate — at least if you were
New York Times
film critic Bosley Crowther. Crowther often seemed to run
hot and cold; either he loved a film with every fiber of his being, or utterly
despised any film he deemed unworthy for one reason or another. Then again,
some movies have a few flaws, yet they’re nevertheless riveting and entertaining
because the story and its characters just find a good home in your gut and stay
there. Well, that’s how it is with me and Impact!
|Life is a circus at Walt and Irene Williams' home,|
the way she puts Walt through hoops!
When we say Impact, we don’t mean aching molars! Screenwriters Dorothy
Reid (a.k.a. Dorothy Davenport, from the renowned Davenport acting
family) and Jay Dratler (Laura;
The Dark Corner), working from Dratler’s
original story, have crafted a twisty tale of illicit love, greed, duplicity,
misunderstandings, and murder.
Walter Williams (Donlevy) is a San Francisco executive and self-made man. Walt
sure seems to have it all: a big, thriving company, a gorgeous apartment with a
posh sunken living room at the swanky Brocklebank Apartments (where Kim Novak’s
Madeleine Elster lived in Vertigo) and a beautiful wife he adores, Irene
(the multitalented Helen Walker from Nightmare Alley;
Murder, He Says; The Big Combo; the 1945 version of Brewster’s
Millions; Call Northside 777. She's had a dramatic life, too, but that's for another blog post). He dotes on Irene, who nicknames Walt
“Softy.” Proud of his latest business coup, he describes it to Irene word for
word from his recent business meeting, declaring, “Either I get what I want, or
you get another boy!” Uh-oh! All aboard for a tragicomedy of grievous
errors that plunge our man into peril, starting with the Williams’ housekeeper,
Su Lin Chung (the fabulous Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star,
from Shanghai Express; The Thief of Bagdad; Dangerous to Know).
Poor Su Lin overheard Walt’s loud voice (this is Brian Donlevy, after
all!), followed immediately by a large glass vase accidentally knocked over
violently in the wrong place at the wrong time! How was Su Lin supposed to know
that Walt was simply explaining his business triumph to Irene, having the bad
luck to drop the vase and the tea service? If only they’d used paper or plastic cups!
|The Shadow knows — not! The tragicomedy of deadly errors begins with the unsuspecting Su Lin!|
|The lovely Irene is suitable for framing—or|
killing the unsuspecting Walt!
expensive accidents aside, Irene sure seems to have it made, with a rich, loving
husband who spoils her rotten! Alas, “rotten”
is the operative word:
the ungrateful Irene has a sweetie on the sly, Jim Torrance (Tony Barrett from
Born to Kill;
the 1940s Dick Tracy
movies; and many TV
appearances, including Peter Gunn
and 77 Sunset Strip
). Irene and
Jim have cooked up an evil plot in which Irene stays home with an alleged
toothache while her “Cousin Jim” (kissing cousins indeed!) furtively slits the
tires and takes over the driving to kill Walt in a car crash, leaving the wicked
lovebirds living wealthily ever after. If you ask me, I’d say Irene’s got the
nomination for Ingrate of the Year
all sewn up!
chitchat about cousins from Irene’s side of the family gradually gets Walt’s
Spidey-Sense tingling a bit, with Jim’s little white lies about being in Italy
during the war, and family info that “Cousin Jim” should have known. Alas, Walt
gets wise too late; as soon as they’re alone in the dark fixing that flat on
that lonely highway cliff, “Cousin Jim” snaps, “This is from Irene and me,
sucker!” He klongs
Walt on the head and rolls our poor
unconscious-and-assumed-dead hero down the steep incline. But oops!
What’s the matter Jimbo, can’t find your keys after all that hard work? See,
you should always make sure you have your keys on you before
you flee a
crime scene! Now Jim’s
the “sucker”— a charbroiled sucker after he
smashes into a huge high-octane gas truck! *Tsk* *tsk,*
It galls me to say it, but where are Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff from
when you need them?
|"This is from Irene and me, sucker!"|
(Actual dialogue from the film! Poor Walt!)
with Walt for being shocked and heartbroken, after being set up and almost
murdered, and yet it’s kind of refreshing to see Walt’s more vulnerable side.
Poor Walt; it’s not often you see a strong man like Brian Donlevy cry! After the
fatal-to-Jim truck accident, (good riddance, homicidal creep!), Walt can’t help
but be shell-shocked and humiliated for a while, kinda like
Dan McGinty in his hobo days.
To borrow a line from Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train,
it’s kind of painful for a man to discover he’s
been a chump. Eventually, he finds himself in the town of Larkspur (it’s a real
town in Idaho, filmed on location). There, Walt meets Marsha Peters (Ella
Raines of Phantom Lady; Tall
in the Saddle; Hail the Conquering Hero
), a pretty young war widow with
cat-like green eyes and a warm personality. Mars may not need women, but Marsha
and the town of Larkspur sure need assistants for her garage in these post-war
days! Walt introduces himself as Bill Walker, and shows Marsha he’s got the
right stuff, car-wise. She hires him forthwith, and soon they're playfully calling each other
“Boss.” Over time, the chip on Walt's shoulder erodes, and he and Marsha grow close, albeit in a chaste, wholesome way
(hey, our Marsha’s a nice gal, not an evil lying femme fatale like Irene!).
Even Marsha’s mom (veteran actress May Marsh from Three Godfathers; Birth of
the Michael Shayne mystery Blue, White, and Perfect)
accepts Walt like one of the family.
Walt still keeps newspaper clippings of his near-fatal accident and further news
on the case (announced on the radio by columnist Sheilah Graham, no less!).
Can Walt be big enough to work past the agony Irene has put him through? I’m a
gentle soul, but if I were Walt, I’d sure be itching to punch Irene’s lights
out! Where’s Donlevy’s two-fisted Professor Quatermass when you need him?
Jim Torrance has
monogrammed cuffs, thanks to Irene.
Guess he’s too chicken to get
time passes and Walt gradually feels more like his can-do self (though I bet
Walt will never use “Softy” as a pet name again, not even to a puppy!), the
tables get turned on Irene. The car crash and Walt’s apparent death was
front-page news, and Lt. Quincy (no, not Jack Klugman, but Charles Coburn of
The More The Merrier; The Lady Eve; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)
takes charge of the
investigation. Quincy’s sleuthing uncovers the fancy
monogrammed handkerchiefs and cuffs Irene had made for Jim, as well as the
moving van where the injured Walt hid with his briefcase.
tables can turn! Three months have passed, and Irene is charged with conspiring
to kill Walt, with Jim Torrence still missing! After all the agita Walt’s been
through, he decides to simply let evil Irene take the rap; who’d blame him? Eye
for an eye, and all that! Ah, but Walt’s conscience starts needling him, with
some gentle help from Marsha. He fesses up to his past and is ready to leave in
order to keep Marsha out of it. Instead, Marsha convinces Walt to return to San
Francisco together to substantiate Walt’s account of murder and woe. Well, they
say no good deed goes unpunished: the police confront Irene with Walt, and
being a poor sport, Irene immediately accuses Walt of killing Jim, claiming that
she and Walt had argued after he refused to give her a divorce, and Su Lin could
back her up! Poor Marsha is devastated at this turn of events for the man she
loves, but Walt assures her he’s gained so much from her, and he wants to
believe in the same values Marsha does.
|"What a nightmare! I dreamed Irene & her cuz|
were gonna kill me! It's real?! Calgon, take me away!"
the great tradition of Phantom Lady,
The Dark Corner,
and other classic Women Who Save Their Man’s Bacon, Marsha and Lt. Quincy
search for Su Lin on the streets of San Francisco (where are Karl Malden,
Michael Douglas, and Quinn Martin when you need them?). Will Su Lin work up her
courage and talk? Watch and enjoy this San Francisco treat for yourself!
|*Snif* thanks for finding my monogrammed hanky, Lt. Quincy. These |
hankies look ridiculous, but they're all I have to remember Walt by, along with a zillion bucks."
|Adorable Marsha Peters can be our grease monkey anytime!|
|Walt comes to
Larkspur, where |
people have the guts to walk under ladders!
|Even Larkspur's volunteer Fire Department makes Walt happy!|
|Marsha, Su Lin, and Lt. Quincy save the day for Walt!|
|But I can’t go to the
slammer! They won’t let me have silk sheets! |
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