Detective Dave Bannion investigates a police sergeant's suicide. Strictly routine...until a B-girl claiming to have evidence is found murdered, and Bannion's superiors order him off the case. Not one to suffer being pushed, Bannion pushes back at reputed mob boss Lagana, who fanatically keeps his home life free of "dirt." Result: a bomb meant for Bannion kills HIS WIFE, and Bannion becomes a white-hot sword of vengeance, alone against a corrupt world...except for Debby, disfigured ex-mistress of sadistic mobster Vince Stone.
Glenn Ford ... Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion
Gloria Grahame ... Debby Marsh
Jocelyn Brando ... Katie Bannion
Alexander Scourby ... Mike Lagana
Lee Marvin ... Vince Stone
Jeanette Nolan ... Bertha Duncan
Peter Whitney ... Tierney
Willis Bouchey ... Lt. Ted Wilks
Robert Burton ... Det. Gus Burke
Adam Williams ... Larry Gordon
Howard Wendell ... Police Commissioner Higgins
Chris Alcaide ... George Rose
Michael Granger ... Hugo (police clerk)
Dorothy Green ... Lucy Chapman
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.
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.
The Big Heat(1953) focuses on the conflict between honest cop and corruption that is around him. The cop, Dave Bannion is someone who believes in law and order and this conflicts with the activities of the people he's working for because they are dishonest. He pays the price for his fight against the corrupt system with the almost total loss of his family. At first he's just one man who is forced to take on the system on his own. In this film Dave Bannion is someone who stands fast against the corruption around him that is squeezing him.
The theme of revenge is an important element of The Big Heat(1953). In fact, its the biggest motif in the film history of Fritz Lang as he dealt with the emotional and destructive forces of one person's vengeance. Fritz Lang did not believe in the idea of revenge as he thought of it as negative and pointless. Its interesting to note how Dave Bannion played by Glenn Ford goes from being quiet and nice to angry and cold. The revenge motif had previously appeared in other Lang films like Die Nibelungen(1924), M(1931), Fury(1936), Return of Frank James(1940), & Rancho Notorious(1952).
Lee Marvin made one of his most famous roles with this film. His performance gives an early sign that he was on his way to stardom. His performance as Vince Stone is absolutely awesome. This role would set up later roles in films like The Killers(1964), Point Blank(1967), and Prime Cut(1971). Lee Marvin in The Big Heat(1953) shows why he is one of the best Hollywood tough guys from his era.
The Big Heat(1953) was released during the late period of Film Noir. Film Noir was on its dying legs during this time but was still coming up with some gems. Many of this late Noir pictures are characterized by their increasing depiction of violent behavior and events. Some of the best noirs to come out of this period are Born to Kill(1948), White Heat(1949), The Asphalt Jungle(1950), Desperate Hours(1952), The Big Heat(1953), Kiss Me Deadly(1954), The Killing(1955), and Touch of Evil(1958). The Big Heat continued the great tradition of the genre with its excellent storytelling.
The car bombing sequence in my opinion my have inspired a similar sequence in The Godfather(1972). In both scenes, the bomb kills the wife of the husband instead of the husband. Also, the scene in The Godfather(1972) is done with the same unexpectencey and shock. The difference is that Dave Bannion regains his humanity while Michael Corleone stays cold blooded and ruthless. The Big Heat(1953) would have a major influence on Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather(1972).
The Big Heat is unusually violent for the year of 1953. The violence in the film must have shocked audiences then because most films in the early 50s were light and harmless. The intensity of the violent scenes must have really disturbed audiences and critics alike. The coffee throwing scene is one of the most vicious acts of violence in a film from the 1950s. The violence is shocking even though they are mostly implicit.
The Big Heat features the death of all the main actresses of the film. This implies that the world in the film is very brutal and vicious towards women. The film deals with how the loss of a woman can have a negative effect on a male world. The Big Heat is one of the few movies that I've seen where all the main female characters are killed off. The deaths of Debbie and Katie are very sad and tearjearking.
The acting in the motion picture is just brilliant to watch. Glenn Ford gives a balance performance as the idealistic cop, Dave Bannion. Gloria Grahame as Debby Marsh portrays both toughness and vurnability as the girlfriend of Vince Stone. Jeanette Nolan is just cold and cleaver as the crooked Bertha Duncan. Alexander Scourby is terrific as the mob boss and politican Mike Lagana.
There is a great film reference to the classic flick, Gilda(1946). The car bomb scene is refered to at the end of the Scorsese pic, Mean Streets(1973). The Big Heat(1953) is an early precusor to revenge driven films such as Point Blank(1967), Get Carter(1970), and The Limey(1999). The Big Heat(1953) also sets the stage for the Dirty Harry pictures as well as the films of Charles Bronson. The Big Heat is wonderfully executed by director, Fritz Lang.
The structure of the film is tense and mesmorizing to follow. Has some stark camera work and tight editing. The final twenty moments are suspenseful. The Big Heat is my favorite of all the films by Fritz Lang. The Big Heat(1953) is a great movie that one cannot take their eyes off.
In The Big Heat, Fritz Lang by casting Glenn Ford against type, probably directed Ford to his greatest screen performance and one of the best noir films ever done.
Ford is a homicide cop in an unnamed big mid-western city which is in the grip of systemic corruption from organized crime. Remember The Big Heat came out only two years after the Estes Kefauver hearings and stories like these were topical. Another veteran police sergeant has committed suicide and Ford's called in. The widow, Jeanette Nolan, appears to be cooperating, but when the late cop's mistress contacts Ford and is later found murdered, this sets off a chain of events that brings tragedy to Ford personally, but also lead to the cleaning up of the town.
Normally the kind of part that Ford is cast in would go to someone like Kirk Douglas who would explode with all kinds of rage on the screen. What Lang did was cast Glenn Ford, known as one of the cinema's nicest men and squarest shooters. When the gangsters accidentally kill his wife, Jocelyn Brando, with a car bomb meant for him, Ford goes off on a rage and you know there is no force that will stop him without killing him. His performance is effective precisely because of Ford's nice guy image, the viewer identifies with him as Mr. Average Man. Think of Ford as Atticus Finch as cop instead of a lawyer and something happening to kill one of his kids. Gregory Peck as Atticus would react the same way.
The movie rises with what is arguably Ford's greatest screen role. But Glenn gets nice support from Gloria Grahame as the good time gun moll who also comes in for tragedy because she's a flirt and Lee Marvin the number one button man for syndicate head Alexander Scourby. Marvin had done several roles before The Big Heat, but it was in this film that he got his first real critical notice.
Carolyn Jones has a small part as a woman who Lee Marvin beats up and my favorite small role in the film is from Edith Evanson as a shy crippled woman who gives Ford his first real lead in tracking down his wife's killers. By the way Jeanette Nolan is one truly evil woman as the late sergeant's widow, one of her best screen roles.
The Big Heat is one of Fritz Lang's best at what he does best, delve into the dark side of his hero/protagonists.