No-nonsense San Francisco industrial whiz Walter Williams's two-timing wife and her lover plot to do her husband in, but Williams survives the attack and the lover is burned beyond recognition while driving Williams's car.
Half-dazed, Williams stumbles into a moving van that takes him to idyllic Larkspur, Idaho, where newspaper stories of his "death" jog his memory.
While recuperating and plotting his eventual return and revenge, Williams falls in love with Marsha, an auto mechanic. But when Williams finally gets back to San Francisco, he's tried for the lover's murder
Brian Donlevy ... Walter Williams
Ella Raines ... Marsha Peters
Charles Coburn ... Lt. Tom Quincy
Helen Walker ... Irene Williams
Anna May Wong ... Su Lin
Robert Warwick ... Capt. Callahan
Clarence Kolb ... Darcy
Art Baker ... Eldridge (defense attorney)
William Wright ... District Attorney
Mae Marsh ... Mrs. King
Sheilah Graham ... Herself
Tony Barrett ... Jim Torrance
Philip Ahn ... Ah Sing
Glen Vernon ... Ed (as Glenn Vernon)
Linda Leighton ... Telephone operator
The interesting story and cast help to make this a good film-noir, with an involved plot that keeps your attention even through a couple of slower stretches. In the lead role, Brian Donlevy gives a low-key performance that works pretty well.
Donlevy plays a talented but rather naive businessman who suddenly finds himself the target of his scheming wife and her calculating boyfriend. The story passes through several different stages, as the whole story gradually comes out. It's structured so that the audience knows much more than any of the characters do, and thus much of the suspense comes from wondering how they will react if and when they figure it all out.
As the scheming wife, Helen Walker is solid in conveying her character's deceitfulness. Ella Raines is satisfactory as a resourceful woman who befriends Donlevy's character. Charles Coburn gets a good amount of screen time as a detective, and although much of the time his character serves only to advance the plot, Coburn makes good use of his occasional opportunities to do more. Mae Marsh only gets a handful of scenes, but she has one good speech in a scene with Donlevy. Anna May Wong plays a character who is important to the plot, but unfortunately the role does not give her much of a chance to display her considerable acting ability.
Aside from meandering a bit at times, the story works pretty well. The various pieces of the movie fit together most of the time, and it maintains the tension effectively. As a whole, it's somewhat above average, and it should not disappoint most fans of its genre.
I imagine there will be many who dispute the characterization of "Impact" as film noir, and I can't blame them. It's not photographed in typical noir fashion, to be sure, but its themes are definitely in the noir neighborhood. There is a stark contrast between the murderous doings in San Francisco (and on the road), and the pastoral joys of Larkspur, Idaho--a contrast that is emphasized by the score, which favors harp and flute for Larkspur and dramatic strings, or even complete silence, for the rest of the film.
Brian Donlevy turns in a solid performance as the loving husband and successful industrialist who discovers his beloved wife is scheming with a lover to kill him; the scene where he breaks down after realizing this is more than solid, and reveals a depth of emotional understanding that Donlevy rarely showed, or at least got the chance to show. Helen Walker is just tremendous as the scheming wife, whose lightning-fast wit helps her transfer the murder rap from herself to her husband, despite her surprise at his being alive at all.
Charles Coburn slips in and out of an Irish brogue as the detective who suspects Walker and supports Donlevy, even at the expense of undercutting the D.A.'s case. Anna May Wong has a small role that emphasizes how the years have worn on her since her beautiful turn in "Shanghai Express." Philip Ahn has an even smaller role as Wong's uncle, who responds to Coburn's condescending query, "You savvy English?" with an urbane "Yes. Also French, Italian, and Hebrew" (reminiscent of his character years earlier in "Something to Sing About").
The plot gets a little convoluted, and the triumphant ending may seem like a bit of an anticlimax, but "Impact" should still be better known than it is.
A good example of a little known "film noir," this 1949 film was shot primarily on location in San Francisco.
There is good acting all around, from the main stars down to supporting cast, and the plot does tie together nicely.
Look for Mae Marsh, a silent film star who plays Ella Raines mother, and also look for a brief cameo appearance by syndicated columnist and radio personality Sheila Graham, playing herself of course.
Brian Donlevy, who made similar "noir" films, among them D.O.A., appears to be right at home in this film, and is wonderful in an understated way.
The film, at almost 2 hours in length was a bit long for the time, and might drag a bit, but is worth watching.
Anna Mae Wong plays the maid in this film, an old time character actress from the days of silent films, she has a small but all important role in the film, for she holds the key (literally) to how the whole movie ends. Listen for some degrading Chinese music when Ms. Wong is on the run.
Interesting note, Helen Walker who plays the scheming wife in the film, was involved in a major scandal of her own. On New Years Eve, 1946, she was driving home some hitchhiking soldiers near Redlands, California. Walker, apparently drunk at the wheel, got into a car accident in which one of the soldiers was killed and the other two badly injured. Though in the end exonerated of any guilt from the accident, it seemed to plague her for the rest of her life, and she slipped deeper and deeper into depression.