Thursday, July 14, 2011

263. The Big Heat (1953)

Running Time: 89 minutes
Directed By: Fritz Lang
Written By: Sydney Boehm, from novel by William P. McGivern
Main Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Alexander Scourby


Damn, am I turning into a real noir hound. The other day it was "Detour" and now tonight I become entangled all in an intricately weaved web of police corruption, suicide and murder, all without leaving the comfort of my bed.

To explain the story of "The Big Heat", I guess you have to start with crime boss Mike Lagana (Scourby). Lagana runs the city and keeps a number of police on his payroll. One of those police is Tom Duncan, who, as the film opens, is promptly committing suicide, leaving behind a note. His wife, upon finding his body, collects the note and makes a swift call to Lagana and later to the police. Enter Sgt. Dave Bannion (Ford) - a good cop and a family man, who, at the end of a hard day, has a pretty, blond wife and a little girl at home waiting for him. Bannion is called in to investigate the suicide of Tom Duncan. At first, it seems like an open and shut case of suicide, but as Bannion begins to pry, he reveals that it may not be so simple. Bannion begins to uncover tidbits about Duncan's past, finding out that he was on Lagana's payroll and also finding out that he was cheating on his wife. I'll stop there and suffice it to say that it all steamrolls toward frantic outcomes for all the characters concerned and a mystery that will take some definite footwork to crack.


I think what attracts me to these noir stories, especially the ones about cops and criminals, is that nothing this exciting ever happens in real life. To me, these stories are as good as fantasy or sci-fi stories to others. It's almost like a bit of make-believe and when I really want to suspend my disbelief and get lost in a movie, I find that a good film-noir is as good a destination as any. "The Big Heat" is NO exception, as it provides shock after shock and my jaw was literally dropping at certain points in the film. I should have known that there was no place for a family man in a noir and when Mrs. Katie Bannion (Jocelyn Brando) went to start her car and I heard that explosion I was stunned. Since I'm new to noir, a part of me was thinking that a flick from the 50s wouldn't go that far and even when I heard the *BANG*, I just assumed they'd write it off as a "pretty serious injury, but she'll pull through" case. But, no - she was pronounced dead and suddenly I was backing Bannion all the way, wanting the criminal scum to pay for what they did. One of the leaders of the "criminal scum" being Lee Marvin, a fantastic actor with a menacing voice that makes him any film makers dream for a villain.

In fact, speaking of the cast, I had no problems, as everyone played their part and played it very well. Ford was great as a leading man, Marvin as the villain and Gloria Grahame played the ditsy con-man's lover to a tee. I'm new to noir, but I crave more and though I'm not really an authority on the subject, I'd say this one has to rank up there as one of the great ones in the world of film noir. If I had to nitpick at all, I'd only point to a small section just before the film's finale, where things are ready to be wrapped up and instead, we take our time getting there, reintroducing the police lieutenant and doing some nonsensical things, that could have been left out and had they been, it would have served to keep the heat turned up and kept the pacing moving. But that's only nitpicking, otherwise a FANTASTIC movie.

RATING: 9/10 Not that I'd want them to, but I wonder why modern Hollywood doesn't try to remake some of these old noir films. Have we grown out of the "dirty cops, criminals ruling the city, lone man seeks revenge" phase?


July 14, 2011 1:21am


  1. 'Noir' is probably the type of film I love the best, and this is amoungst the best.
    Why, I'm not sure.. otherwise in films (and life), i dislike the macho image, the tough guy, the dumb blonde, the eveil coniving woman image. I never want to be Mike Hammer, or even Sam spade (well, perhaps a bit of Sam spade), but Noir films? You carn't beat 'em.
    And only America in the 40's can do it. There have been attempts at Brit noir, and I'm afraid, (One known exception)*, they just don not work.
    With quite a few more exceptions,*2 Neo noir dosn't get it either. No, Noir, just HAS to be in B&W.

    *Hell is the city, Stanley Baxter stars, set in Manchester)
    *2 China Town, LA Confidential, Devil in a Blue Dress

  2. I'm curious how you think this one ranks among other noirs now that you've seen a few more. Personally, I'd rank it pretty high. The plot was complex without being totally convoluted like some other niors. (I'm thinking of the Marlowe films in particular.) I was also a bit surprised that they actually killed the wife.

    1. Yeah, I still rank it pretty high too. Definitely one of my favorite noirs. I also can't believe they killed the wife. This one was pretty balls to the wall.

  3. Gosh, my first comment in July 2011 crops up again to haunt.. complete with awful typing and no identification... but that was me.. before I added my name to avoid confusion with other annon, and well before I learn't how (OK, before Andrew taught me how..) to become a named person.

    I stick by all I said then.. and William, despite it's brutality, I stick by this one as a true great.

    1. Isn't it fun re-reading the old comments? I cringe at my old reviews, can't even read em.


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