Im’ pact: The force with which two lives come together — sometimes for good; sometimes for evil!
In the midst of the film noir cycle which primarily extended from the mid-1940s to mid-1950s, independent film producers Harry and Leo Popkin released, through United Artists, the film Impact in 1949. Although usually so classified, Impact actually skirted many of the characteristics of film noir, using some San Francisco location work to good effect, but setting much of its action there and elsewhere in the daytime rather than the shadows of the night so common with noir films. At 111 minutes, it was at least 20 minutes longer than the standard film noir of the time, allowing for a more leisurely resolution of the film’s basic conflict between a husband and his wife who has conspired to kill him. Available for the first time in other than rather poor VHS copies, Image Entertainment has now brought Impact to DVD as a consequence of its July 1999 licencing agreement with Corinth Films, Inc.
Impact follows several months in the life of car industry businessman Walter Williams. At first seemingly happily married, he is soon disabused of this notion as he falls victim to an elaborate scheme by his wife Irene to have her lover murder him. The murder attempt fails, however, with the lover being killed in a car crash and his burnt body taken by the police to be that of Williams. Williams, who suffered a severe head wound during the murder attempt, meanwhile wanders aimlessly for weeks, apparently sinking in and out of amnesia until finally he arrives in Larkspur, Idaho where he meets and begins to work for a young service station owner named Marsha Peters. During this time, the police have determined that the apparent death of Williams was no accident and are able to unearth enough evidence to charge Irene with his murder. Eventually, Marsha finds out that Williams is aware that his wife has been charged with his murder and is finally able to convince him to go back to San Francisco to straighten everything out. But things don’t quite work out that simply…
The somewhat tenuous position of Impact as being truly within film noir has already been alluded to. The film lacks much of the stylistic visual character of such films, but other components push it firmly in noir’s direction. It does, for example, offer an interesting battle between good and evil within Walter Williams’ own mind — the mental pain of struggling with whether or not to reveal that he is still alive, thus effectively determining whether his wife Irene will die or live. In addition, the role of women in Impact conforms to much of the typical presentation of female characters in noir, with one woman, the wife, being central to the dark intrique of the film and another, Marsha Peters, in a non-traditional female role for the time as a service station operator. Finally, the script was by Jay Dratler and Dorothy Davenport — a good noir pedigree, at least on Dratler’s part, for he had previously scripted the excellent noirs Call Northside 777 (1948, Fox), Pitfall (1948, UA), The Dark Corner (1946, Fox), and Laura (1944, Fox).
A strong cast allows Impact‘s leisurely pace to be a positive characteristic of the film. Brian Donlevy is ideal as Walter Williams. He is able to convey the tough aspects of Williams’ character, yet is convincing in showing Williams’ insecurities as he wrestles both with accepting what his wife has done and with whether to reveal that he is still alive. As Williams’ wife Irene, Helen Walker delivers a thoroughly believable portrayal of a self-serving, scheming woman. Ella Raines, on the other hand, has the unenviable task of making herself remembered in the somewhat thankless role of the good girl who helps Williams. Often under-rated, Raines added class to nearly every film she was in. She was no stranger to film noir, having starred in Phantom Lady (1944, Universal), one of noir’s defining films. In Impact, she conveyed a quiet strength as Marsha that, as a contrast, countered Irene walker’s Irene very effectively. Two supporting characters are worth mentioning. Charles Coburn portrayed the aging police detective who has such an important role in unearthing the true facts of the case. Coburn is always a delight to watch, even when he’s saddled with a somewhat uncertain Irish accent, as he is here. Anna May Wong, a well-known actress from the 1930s, has a small but important role as a servant in the Williams’ home.
Image’s DVD of Impact apparently derives from quite a clean print. There is occasional speckling but nothing really bothersome. On the copy viewed, there was, however, a faint vertical white line in the middle of the frame that provided some distraction depending upon the background of the scene. This lasted from the 9 to 19 minute mark approximately. Otherwise, blacks are deep and whites are clean; contrast is good virtually throughout with reasonable shadow detail. The sound is monophonic and clear.
Image certainly hasn’t gone out of its way to provide any value added content to this DVD. We get 16 scene selections and that’s it. There’s no trailer and no cast/crew biographies on the disc, and not even an insert with information on the film in the DVD case. This is fairly standard with Image, although to be fair to them, the SRP is only $19.99, which means you can pick up Impact for under $14.00 if you shop around.
Impact is a very entertaining drama that is shallowly rooted in film noir and provides a good return for the time spent to view it. The DVD is typical of Image’s releases of titles acquired by them under licence; it possesses sound and picture quality which are quite acceptable for the age of the source elements, but there is no supplemental material to enrich the buyer’s viewing of the film. Not to my knowledge previously available on laserdisc, this DVD is recommended, particularly to film noir devotees.