The Big Heat


The Big Heat (1953)

Director: Fritz Lang

Synopsis: This is the story of a clean police detective Dave Bannion
(Glenn Ford) who embarks on a one-man vendetta against the mob and police
corruption after another cop’s apparent suicide. The dead cop’s mistress,
Lucy Chapman (Gloria Graham) comes to him with information, only to end up
tortured and dead herself. He becomes further personally committed after
his wife (Jocelyn Brando) is killed in a car bomb meant for him. He is
taken off the case, but continues his pursuit.

Review: I was looking forward to what was advertised as this “Film-Noir
sizzler.” I love black and white, and this is a “classic,” and was
considered quite violent for its era. What I got was two hours that were
hard to force myself to watch through, with a series of very hollow
performances on sound stages and back-lots. The disfiguring of informant
Chapman by Vince Stone (a very young Lee Marvin) was, as consistent with
its era, done off-screen, but the level of third-degree burn scarring
produced was unrealistic from the scald of a pot of coffee off a hot
plate, making all that followed all the more lame. Likewise, the
on-screen gunshots were all bloodless (where’s Sam Pekinpaugh when you
need him?) producing equally unrealistic deaths. It’s not that I’m into
viloence, in fact, quite the oposite, but I am into believability.

But what was really problematic for me was the horrendous acting, so
consistently bad that the fault had to lie with Lang’s apparently
undemanding directing. I was almost willing to write it off as being
merely “of its era,” until I next watched a bio piece on the Barrymores. It contained scenes from films that preceded The Big Heat by more than 20
years full of rich, realistic performances, and not only by the brilliant
Barrymores. Truly, the level of performance and emotional risk in this
film was worthy of a high school play. It was boring and I didn’t care
about either the characters or the story, which was derived from a novel
by William P. McGivern, serialized in the Saturday Evening Post.

I do have to applaud the beautiful black and white cinematography by
Charles Lang, and the art direction by Robert Peterson. However, if you
want to sample film-noir, skip this unfortunate effort.



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