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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume IV: An Act of Murder (1948) - Blu-ray Review

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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume 4

An Act of Murder, in which a very uncompromising and stubborn judge learns a tough, tough lesson about guilt and morals, is perhaps one of the most forward-thinking film noir offerings in that it comes from the point of view of a man who defends a very strict and outdated view of law and punishment.  If you haven’t guessed, the point of view throughout is that of a judge and what happens when he agrees to take his ill wife on a second honeymoon.

"perhaps one of the most forward-thinking film noir offerings in that it comes from the point of view of a man who defends a very strict and outdated view of law and punishment"


Directed by Michael Gordon (The Web, Crime Doctor, Pillow Talk) and starring Fredric March as Judge Calvin Cooke, An Act of Murder centers around the diagnoses of Cathy Cooke (Florence Eldridge) who is suffering from a brain tumor.  The doctor doesn’t tell her about her condition.  He tells her husband and he decides to keep the bad news to himself, allowing her to live out the rest of her days in happiness.  

But as her neurological condition worsens, Judge Cooke finds himself with little choice but to end her suffering . . . by taking both their lives in a car accident.  

You know how these things turn out, though.  Film Noir is all about embracing fatalism.  In fact, much of the genre owes its dark aspect to way too many “Happy Endings” in Hollywood.  It’s a natural response full of pessimism and fatalism and, as a result, it butters this reviewer’s bread.  For about a decade, writers and directors could see that audiences weren’t interested in fairy tales anymore.  There was too much poverty; too much death and destruction; too many wars.  And the push to urban life had created an economic disparity that lingered long after any romantic ending did. Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume 4 People needed the darkness to be acknowledged and, from 1944 to 1955, it was cinema’s prime celebrity as highly cinematographic films - cheaply made - fell onto the rain-soaked streets of Home Town, USA.  And so, with An Act of Murder, we have a very dark look at one woman’s own mortality as her husband hides the truth from her.  The doctors can’t save her.  They can only give her pills, but when Judge Cooke hears a dog being put down by a police officer, he suddenly understands what his daughter and her lover were trying to tell him about law and order . . . 

. . . sometimes the act of murder is really mercy in disguise.

An Act of Murder is now on blu-ray - newly remastered in HD - as a part of Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume IV, a three movie set which includes Calcutta and Six Bridges To Cross.

3/5 beers

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume 4


Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Kino Lorber
Available on Blu-ray
- July 14, 2020
Screen Formats: 1.37
: English SDH
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; three-disc set
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

From Michael Gordon, the acclaimed director of The Web, The Lady Gambles, Woman in Hiding, Cyrano de Bergerac, Pillow Talk and Portrait in Black, comes this classic film noir starring screen legend Fredric March (Death Takes a Holiday, Inherit the Wind) as a man faced with an impossible predicament. Calvin Cooke (March), a no-nonsense judge in a small Pennsylvania town, finds his thoughts turning to end the life of his beloved wife Cathy (Florence Eldridge, The Story of Temple Drake) when he learns that she has an incurable disease and is suffering from unbearable pain. He decides to move forward with his plan and then surrenders himself to the police. Defended by a brilliant attorney (Edmond O'Brien, The Hitch-Hiker), Cooke goes on trial for his life in a case that will decide if he's legally guilty of murder or morally innocent of killing his wife. This controversial thriller was written by Michael Blankfort (The Dark Past) and Robert Thoeren (The Prowler), based on a book by Ernst Lothar (The Clairvoyant). 


With a crisp black-and-white transfer, An Act of Murder lands on blu-ray thanks to the crackling efforts of Kino Lorber.  Shadows, while not too terribly detailed, are thick and atmospheric throughout. Presented with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, the film looks marvelous and easily beats the poor appearance on television and on home video DVD that has previously dogged it. The blacks and grays are handled expertly by the transfer.  Beads of sweat are visible, wet city streets, textures in clothing, and even the dirt in the pavement is all visible with fine textures throughout.


Bang! Bang! Bang!  Shots are fired on the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which accompanies this film noir flick.



  • There is a brand-new commentary for An Act of Murder that is recorded by film critic Samm Deighan.

Special Features:

Outside of the commentary, there is a theatrical trailer.

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 3/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 3/5 stars
  Extras 2/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

3/5 stars


An Act of Murder

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