We continue our dip into Noir week with The Big Heat!
And boy were they met.
The movie starts off with a bang, quiet literally, as we see what looks like an older gentlemen committing suicide. We discover he's a cop, and the hard hitting detective Sgt. Dave Bannion(Glenn Ford) is called to investigate. The deeper he digs, the dirtier the dead cop gets. Everyone keeps telling him not to investigate, but Bannion is not the kind of cop to just lie down and take it. And when events escalate, he wonders how far he has to go to get to the truth...
Everything about this is just perfect. I couldn't ask for a better story. If M was Fritz Lang's first forray into the world of shadows, and Scarlet Street was an experiment to tone his craft, The Big Heat would be his masterpiece(not that I've seen all his movies, or all his noirs, just in the context of the movies I've seen). The action is firese, the suspense is tense, and the mood is a sea of grimy grey.
One of the high points is the character of Bannion. He's a good cop, maybe the only one left, and maybe too good. If something is wrong, he has to go to hell and back to right it, whoever the victim or perpetrators and whatever the consequences. He's a shinning star, and that makes it all the more tragic when he falls. I don't want to spoil anything, but when shit hits the fan(and brother, shit really hits the fan) you wonder just how far he'll go and if this will finally break him. Is he finally pushed over the edge enough to kill, or will he stay true to his police code?
What I really love about Fritz Lang here is how well he sets up suspense. He puts you into a false sense of security, then just at the right moment, throws you in a room with two people who hate their guts! Everything fits so well. One of my favorite moments comes in a very subtle way. He doesn't even need moody music or overly dramatic tones to tell you something truly horrible is about to happen to these poor characters who are just enjoying their lives. Man knows how to wrench a gut, I'll tell you that.
It helps that Glenn Ford has a real intensity with his role. He just hardass's the hell out of his part. It's a great cast in fact, they're all wonderful and fun in their respective roles. The second best character is Debby(played by Gloria Grahame), a girlfriend of one of the gangsters who likes living the fancy life, even if it means she gets beat up every once in awhile. She has a great character arc in which she goes through some harsh changes and realizes what's important in life. Man I wish I could tell you about it, but you should jsut watch it becuase she is just a plate of fucking awesome.
This one's got it all! There's suspense, and fighting, and shootouts, and explosions, and even some great prosthetics! Obviously since it's done in 1953, not all of the action is entirely believable(explosion happens off screen, actors aren't completly beaten up after action, etc.), but considering how awesome it all is, you'll let it slide. It also has beautifully shots and great moody dramatic music. This is one of my new noir favorites. And it should be one of yours too!
THE GOOD: Great acting, great story and suspense, nice shots, overall great film.
THE BAD: some of the stunts aren't believable, but it was a simpler time
THE VERDICT: Easily my favorite Fritz Lang noir so far, and one of my new noir favorites. Highly recommended for noir buffs and noir newbies alike.
MOVIES LIKE IT: Murder My Sweet, Maltese Falcon
ONE SCENE METAPHOR: After the shit hits the fan, Bannion goes off on his higher ups, and they ask for his badge and his gun. He gives them the badge, but the gun he keeps. "This is my gun, I paid for it with my own money." BADASS. How many cop dramas have this same exact cliche scene, and he's the only one to basically say "Fuck you, just try and take it from me!"? This is a man you do not want to mess around with.