Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Forget the happy view of post-WWII America as fresh faced kids running around green lawns in mass produced split level suburbs fed by newly minted commuter highways and GI Bill educations. Metropolis director's Fitz Lang's 1953 film The Big Heat is a reminder of a darker time when brave film makers occasionally veered into crime, sex, and darkness, barely skittering around a Film Production Code that enforced moral views that did not include crime, sex, and darkness.
Fresh faced Glenn Ford plays a cop with an ideal, postwar home life -- loving wife, adoring kid, nice house, appliances, a large kitchen table. He's thrust into the investigation of a series of murders that, as he learns more and more, show how corrupt the power structure he works for has become. And he discovers that his efforts to do the right thing as a cop put him, his family, and a series of female victims in deadly danger.
The level of violence in this film is shocking. Not only do four female victims crop up during the course of the film (some meet grisly ends which are chillingly described but not shown) but we see nice-guy Ford lash out with physical violence that repeatedly propels his victims across the room. He regularly endangers others as he works his way up the chain of crime and corruption and suffers greatly in the process.
As do others. Gloria Graham plays a gangster's moll (today we'd call her "a drunken slut") who learns, too late, that her boyfriend, played by Lee Marvin in a terrifically menacing performance, is a psychopath who easily turns on his friends -- and her.
As with other film noir classics, The Big Heat makes the mostof darkness, shadows, lighting, and sound. But here the overarching theme is one of menace, evil, and violence, peppered liberally with terrific performances (Graham especially) and a clever script.