Well You’re As About As Romantic As a Pair of Handcuffs

Posted: 31/12/2013 in 1953

The Big Heat 1

We have a seen a few films jump into the film noir genre this year (a couple, in fact, were very strong showings), but none this year performed to the level of Fritz Lang’s incredibly powerful and efficient The Big Heat.  This film absolutely drips with mood, but it’s never hammy, and it’s never over the top.  Much of this is as a result of a wonderful script coupled with some of the best performances we’ve seen all year on the big screen.

One of the beautiful things about The Big Heat is that the writing never strays away the realistic as many films in the noir genre oftentimes do.  Instead, every time I braced myself for the moment when the film would get corny or away from what would really happen in such a situation, I was constantly surprised that it never went in that direction.  The Big Heat is a tough film with tough characters.  It knows what it is and, within the boundaries of censorship, it stays true to itself and the audience throughout.  Thank you Sydney Boehm for this beautifully tight, edgy, dark, and in some parts, shocking adaptation.  Much credit must also be given to Fritz Lang as well for bringing his European sensibilities of directing to American film.  Much of the coldness and edginess of The Big Heat is all Fritz Lang.  I hate to make comparisons, but inevitably this film is going to get a ton of comparisons to Pickup on South Street.  I will first say that Thelma Ritter gives one of the best performances of the year in any genre in Pickup on South Street, but in terms of overall merit, I want to go on record as saying that The Big Heat is the better of the two films.  While Pickup is certainly one of the more entertaining films I’ve seen this year, The Big Heat goes in the direction you hope it goes not in the direction you fear it might.  Some of the most shocking scenes of the year appear here, but never for the purpose of shocking.  Instead, this is a film that truthfully tells its story.

Speaking of acting, the performances here are stellar.  Truthfully, this is one of the strongest ensembles of the year, period.  Glenn Ford more than holds his own as the vengeful Detective Bannion.  His anger is never over the top, yet it’s ride he takes us on, once again in a balanced and true form.  Where The Big Heat really shines however, is in its supporting cast.  Gloria Grahame as Debby Marsh is quite the character.  In the beginning I really thought we were getting just another two-dimensional female character, but instead Miss Grahame fools us and gives us so much more.  Give her performance and character some time to develop in your mind during and after the film, and you realize you’ve witnessed one of the more well-rounded performances of the year.  If Gloria Grahame’s performance is interesting, Jeanette Nolan is absolutely lethal as the widowed Bertha Duncan.  In the end, perhaps her’s is the strongest of the film, but in the buildup of her character and in its dangerous subtlety.  And while Miss Nolan is dangerously subtle, Lee Marvin is deliciously dangerous.  As I chewed on this film, it was Lee Marvin’s sinister Vince Stone that really remained stuck in my head, both for the madness and utter strength of performance.

The more I meditate on The Big Heat, the more I realize we have something special here.  I’m not sure if all that see it will be able to see beyond the noir genre, but look closer and observe one of the most magical and dynamite 90 minutes of the year!

**** ~AOS

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