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USA 1953
Directed by
Fritz Lang
90 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Big Heat

When Sgt Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is called to investigate the suicide of a fellow cop he uncovers a sink of corruption that will eventually cost his wife her life and bring down "the big heat" on the mobsters.who run City Hall.

Director Fritz Lang brings plenty of film noir know-how to this very dark tale even though overall the film reflects the zeitgeist of the 1950s as it moved to a more simplistic separation between heroes and villains than is typical of the paradigmatically 1940s genre with its jaundiced assessment of human relations.

Sydney Boehm’s screenplay depends on an opposition between Bannion’s cosy suburban life and the upscale but vicious world of crime boss Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) and his No 1 henchman Vince Stone (a truly scary Lee Marvin), just as the dead cop’s wife (Jeanette Nolan) is the opposite of Bannion’s (played by Jocelyn Brando, elder sister of Marlon). Gloria Grahame as Stone’s mistress, Debby, and Lucy (Dorothy Green), the dead cop's mistress, occupy the middle ground between them, although in what might be regarded by some as a misogynistic tendency (nb. the film's poster) all the women end up dead.

Whereas in film noir all the characters are implicated in the same morally compromised world here Bannion is the self-righteous avenger whole steadfastly stands outside it (compare Ford’s Bannion with his Johnny Farrell in the 1946 noir classic Gilda which is referred to in this film's middle section when the jazz combo at The Retreat night club play "Lay The Blame on Mame". Despite his temporary succumbing to a "hate binge", the film ends with Bannion, at one stage stood down for his aggressive and invasive methods, back at his desk and ready to keep cleaning the mean streets of L.A. apparently oblivious to the fact that four women are dead, at least three undeservedly so, as a consequence of his dedication to the straight and narrow, or what some may regard as his surprisingly loose-lipped police work. (I was not sure if the last line "keep the coffee hot" was intended as a tasteless reference to the scene in which Stone scalds Debby's face or whether it was an unfortunate oversight).

The Big Heat is widely regarded as one of Lang’s best films but a remake for our times would be a film I’d like to see. 




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