The Big Heat (1953)


Fritz Lang’s seminal American noir The Big Heat begins with a man blowing his brains out and only descends further into the black from there. Anchored by a pin-sharp screenplay full of sassy dames, thugs and augmented by Lang’s roaming camera that covers floor space with an invisible efficiency, this is the real deal.

Its effect is similar to that of a blunt instrument. The movie indulges in no filler and the story is pulped to the bone. It’s tough as nails and, like the coffee Lee Marvin tosses into poor Gloria Grahame’s face, hot as hell. Glenn Ford’s vengeful Detective plows through the bad guys like a force of nature, to the point where he too becomes something of a villain. He’s a classic anti-hero, morally questionable and dark with little consideration for the lives he ruins throughout his bloody quest.

Interestingly, Grahame takes over the film during the last act to instil justice among the men (and women) who have wronged her. With her face burned and bandaged, she is the perfect embodiment for The Big Heat‘s melding of the beautiful with the ugly, the corrupt and the innocent. One of my favourite moments features her and another gangster’s moll, the two of them dressed identical in fur coats, as they ruminate on their position in this man’s world as “the mink coated girls”. You don’t get dialogue like that in this day and age.

You’ve also gotta applaud Lang’s audacity with the final line. Following a movie where the most dangerous weapon has been boiling caffeine, Ford calls over to a colleague as he leaves the police station, “keep the coffee hot, Hugo”. That’s what I call a stinger. Ouch.

Watched on Indicator blu-ray.

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