The Big Heat Reviews
And Lang's movies are straight-forward on one level, but subtly different on another level if you want to take the time to think about it.
In The Big Heat, Glenn Ford plays a good cop with a bad habit of getting the women around him killed, all in the name of protecting Lady Justice. I have a soft spot for Ford anyway because he reminds me of my grandfather. And he is excellent in this, especially paired with hot mess Gloria Grahame and supported by Lee Marvin in a memorable role as villain.
The Big Heat is not available to stream on any of the subscription services, but Netflix does have it on disc.
Watching him pushed into a corner and waiting to explode was simply wonderful, and I can definitely see revisiting this one soon.
Make some sense of that, pals.
The movie opens with a policeman committing suicide under suspicious circumstances. Another detective, Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) begins a long, costly investigation into police corruption, which ends up having unforeseen, brutal consequences. Also involved are a rough gangster (Lee Marvin), the gangster's girlfriend (Gloria Grahame), and Bannion's wife (Jocelyn Brando, Marlon's sister).
I can't really discuss the movie too much without spoiling things, but suffice it to say the movie packs in several surprising, violent twists. There are two moments in particular, one involving a pot of boiling coffee, that make the movie possibly one of the grimmest and most violent noirs from the 1950s. The overall structure of the movie plays out in a fairly straightforward, predictable fashion, but the events along the way definitely do shock and surprise.
Glenn Ford is fine as Bannion, though he just doesn't have the presence of a Humphrey Bogart. More interesting is Gloria Grahame's excellent performance as the gangster's girlfriend, who gets a lot more to do in the movie than you think she will at first. She's the real standout character in the movie. Lee Marvin is also quite good as the villainous gangster, but then Marvin was always a great villain. It seems odd that the movie was directed by Fritz Lang, the creator of the German Expressionist classics Metropolis and M, because it's possibly the most stylistically plain and uninflected film noir I've ever seen. It just looks like a standard black-and-white movie, with little overtly arty camerawork. Maybe that was part of the point, to make a barebones, stripped-down movie, but the shadowy lighting of most noir has always been part of the genre's appeal to me. So, overall, it's a little dryer than most noirs, but still worthwhile.
And although I'm a bit disappointed how little of his own style Lang managed to conserve in this genre The Big Heat has a decent plot, a great script (much better than most of the genre's other output) and a likable cast.
Back in the days when women are little glitzy accessories and smoking was mandatory, The Big Heat has exploding cars, even two femme fatales, brawls, shoot-outs and a lot of whiskey. It has also one of the most hilariously badly acted scenes ever when Bannion's daughter starts crying (really bad) and runs away laughing the next minute. Bannion's wife is hot though (even for today's standards - and she knows how to cook a good steak).
I can't really add any substantial details or remarks. The Big Heat is just a well-crafted genre piece with all the flaws you expect. Only the above-average script and the name of its acclaimed director elevates it to its status - that it's remembered in contrary to the hundreds of similar movies we forgot.