Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Big Heat

The Big Heat; crime drama, USA, 1953; D: Fritz Lang, S: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby

Corrupt police officer Tom Duncan commits suicide. His wife Bertha finds out he left incriminating papers for mobster Lagana, and thus sways him to pay her to keep quiet. Honest Sergeant Dave Bannion buys Bertha's story that Duncan killed himself due to poor health, until he is contacted by Duncan's mistress Lucy who contradicts that. The next day, Lucy is found dead so Dave figures she was right. After his wife is killed by a car bomb and the Chief commissioner presses to close the case under Lagana's orders, Dave is suspended from the police, but meets Debby, the girlfriend of Vince, one of Lagana's henchmen. After a lot of investigation, Debby shoots Bertha, while Dave arrests Vince and is returned back to the police force.

One of the best movies from the 50s, excellent crime drama "The Big Heat" once again highlighted how the underrated Fritz Lang's sense for directing and adroit conjuring up of situations comes to full expression even outside his homeland, yet a big deal of kudos should also go to the brilliant screenplay by Sydney Boehm that knows for no empty walk. The movie starts when a man's life ends: in the opening sequence, police officer Tom Duncan commits suicide, thereby triggering a very thoroughbred story about corruption and schemes of mobsters behind the curtain, as well as the hero who stands in their way, Dave (Glenn Ford), who follows his ethics and integrity even when half of his life gets blown to pieces. "The Big Heat" has a lot of geniusly set up moments (one particular highlight is when Dave asks the suspicious bartender about Lucy, but he says he does not know anything. As soon as Dave leaves the bar, the bartender rushes to make a phone call in the next room and inform someone about the Sergeant asking about Lucy. But as soon as the bartender finishes his call and turns back - he spots Dave who was waiting there all along, and never left in the first place. The bartenders expression is priceless, Dave's line "Take your coat, we are going to the precinct" also, but the simplicity of the twist of the old clichee is delicious), yet today it is mostly remembered only for the bitter scene where gangster Vince (Lee Marvin) pours hot coffee on Debby's face. A complaint or two could be directed towards the rather conventional story and the slightly standard finale, and possibly the incriminating papers that are just a typical 'MacGuffin' ploy, yet they are in the minority and can hardly corrode the overall powerful accomplishment of this unassuming little 'film noir' classic.


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