The Big Heat (1953)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Cinematography Charles Lang

I’ll take mine black, no sugar

20 July 2001 | by Movie_Man 500 (La La Land) – See all my reviews

Fantastic film noir features 2 potent scenes involving tossed coffee, and Gloria Grahame as a mob moll who is definitely a woman not be messed with. Tough cop Ford is not afraid of anyone as he goes on movie long crusade to bring down every villian in the story. Entertaining pulp is fast and cynical and will leave lasting impression long after it’s over. Great characters dot the brutal landscape from beginning to end.

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Taut, gripping, vintage cop thriller

8/10
Author: Lupercali from Tasmania
22 June 2004

It’s doubtful that even Dirty Harry in his most menacing moments could match the smouldering rage that Glenn Ford brings to the screen in this excellent 1953 Fritz Lang flick. From a modern POV there is nothing unfamiliar here, except maybe the dated hardboiled lingo. The maverick cop, the revenge theme, the underworld characters and heroines. It’s just that whereas a modern director would make this into a predictable two hour yawn-fest with slow-motion car accidents and ten minute shootouts with shoulder-launched missiles, Lang’s movie clocks in at under 90 minutes, and there isn’t an ounce of fat on it. It’s lean, fast-moving and engrossing. Not a single camera shot is wasted or unnecessary. The script crackles, the cast is uniformly excellent, and Ford and Lee Marvin in particular are unforgettably intense. Ford, just when he’s about to go way over the top, reins himself in, adding to the aura of barely suppressed violence in his character.

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The movie can also lurch from plot exposition to sudden, economical and unexpected explosions of violence which can still shock today and must have been extremely confronting fifty years ago. And from there it can become suddenly, unexpectedly sensitive and moving.

Nothing is wasted in this movie. Everything is nailed down just right. It’s not that they don’t make them like this any more; it’s more that they’ve been making them like this ever since, and generally to lesser and lesser effect.

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Corruption in higher places

8/10
Author: jotix100 from New York
12 January 2006

Fritz Lang, a man who knew the business like no other, is seen at the top of his craft with this interesting film noir that pays off in unexpected ways. Mr. Lang was a man that believed in total control and who wanted to get the best out of everyone in all his films. “The Big Heat” is one of those rare films in which all the elements come together with surprising results.

Corruption in higher places is the basis of the story. A good police detective who cares enough to keep on probing into the suicide of one of his comrades, is what brings Dave Bannion, not only to the attention of the higher ups in the police department, but to Lagano and the mobsters that work for this evil man. Tragedy finds a way into Dave’s home that makes him even more resolved into seeking justice and unmasking the mobsters found along the way that have a grip on the police department.

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The casting of “The High Heat” is what makes this film different from the rest of the films of the genre. Glenn Ford made an excellent appearance in the film. He gives one of the best performances of his career. But of course, the film belongs to Gloria Grahame, the bad girl in most of the films of this genre. What a joy it’s to watch her! Her Debby Marsh is one of the best roles she portrayed for the movies. Surprisingly, Ms. Grahame and Mr. Ford show a lot of chemistry in their scenes together.

The others in the film do good work under Mr. Lang’s direction. A young Lee Marvin is perfectly creepy as Vince Stone, a man who gets what’s coming to him at the end in a memorable sequence playing against Ms. Grahame. Jeannette Nolan makes a valuable contribution as the bad widow of the man that commits suicide. Alexander Scourby, as Lagana has some good moments. Joselyn Brando plays Dave’s wife. Also, in a small part we see Carolyn Jones.

“The Big Heat” demonstrates why Fritz Lang was one of the best influences in the American cinema.

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Critical response

The New York Times and Variety both gave The Big Heat very positive reviews. Bosley Crowther of the Times described Glenn Ford “as its taut, relentless star” and praises Lang for bringing “forth a hot one with a sting.” Variety characterized Lang’s direction as “tense” and “forceful.”Critic Roger Ebert listed the film among his category of “Great Movies” and he praised the film’s supporting actors.

Writer David M. Meyer states that the film never overcomes the basic repulsiveness of its hero, but notes that some parts of the film, though violent, are better than the film as a whole: “Best known is Gloria Grahame’s disfigurement at the hands of über-thug Lee Marvin, who flings hot coffee into her face.”

According to film critic Grant Tracey, the film turns the role of the femme fatale on its head: “Whereas many noirs contain the tradition of the femme-fatale, the deadly spiderwoman who destroys her man and his family and career, The Big Heat inverts this narrative paradigm, making Ford [Det. Bannion] the indirect agent of fatal destruction. All four women he meets—from clip joint singer, Lucy Chapman, to gun moll Debby—are destroyed.”

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