Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Big Heat (1953) at the Noir City Film Festival

The last evening of the 2017 Noir City Film Festival was an especially fun time. My husband and I had spent the day with friends in town ahead of the TCM Classic Film Festival, then we all went together to the last night of Noir City!

TCM's Illeana Douglas was on hand in the audience, and actor Clu Gulager was in his usual front row center seat for the final double bill in the series, Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT (1953) paired with the unique WICKED WOMAN (1953).

This was my first time to see THE BIG HEAT, despite the fact that I'd even won a copy of it at a previous Noir City Festival! I knew the film had a great reputation, but I also knew there were a couple of moments I'd find disturbing; those scenes were indeed troubling, yet the movie was so good it more than made up for the difficult aspects. It was rather like I felt when I recently saw BROKEN ARROW (1950) for the first time in many years: I shouldn't have waited so long!

Glenn Ford plays Sgt. Dave Bannion, a police detective who goes up against powerful Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) and his crime syndicate. Bannion pays an incredibly high personal price for refusing to stand down, and when he's not backed by his superiors, Dave resigns and continues to investigate the mob.

Bannion is aided by Debby (Gloria Grahame), who's disfigured by her hoodlum boyfriend (Lee Marvin) after she speaks to Bannion. Debby helps track down critical evidence against Magana which is being used to blackmail him by Bertha Duncan (Jeanette Nolan), whose cop husband wrote down everything he knew before killing himself.

There's more to this dark and twisty story but I think it's best left for viewers to discover it for themselves. Suffice it to say that Ford is superb as the dedicated, tormented cop, and he's backed by an excellent cast which also includes Jocelyn Brando, Peter Whitney, Carolyn Jones, Willis Bouchey, Robert Burton, Dorothy Green, Linda Bennett, and John Crawford.

Jeanette Nolan was a particular surprise as an avaricious cop's wife. Her hard-boiled performance may come as a surprise to those who know her from sweet roles such as SADDLE TRAMP (1950) or TV's THE VIRGINIAN...which, incidentally, costarred Clu Gulager, who was there watching the movie.

The Sydney Boehm screenplay scatters great lines throughout, such as Grahame's "We're sisters under the mink" or, just before she shoots someone, "Never felt better in my life!"

The movie runs 90 crackling minutes, and modern filmmakers with bloated two hour plus movies could learn a lot from this lean, mean, riveting film.

Viewers may want to know that while most of the visuals that go along with the film's violence are kept off screen, there's plenty that takes place just out of camera range; it's an intense film.

THE BIG HEAT was filmed by Charles Lang.

THE BIG HEAT is available on DVD. It can be streamed on Amazon Instant Video.

Highly recommended.

Coming soon, the final review of the festival, Beverly Michaels in WICKED WOMAN (1953). Update: Here is that review!


Blogger Jerry E said...

So glad you finally got to see this classic movie, Laura. One of the absolute best 'noirs'!!

2:32 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

"Intense" is the right word for The Big Heat.

4:17 PM  
Blogger mel said...

Thanks for writing on The Big Heat, Laura - it prompted me to take my copy out of the large stack of movies that I haven't watched yet, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all for the feedback! Jerry and Caftan Woman, really glad I caught up with it. :)

And Mel, I'm delighted that my seeing THE BIG HEAT prompted you to check it out as well, and especially that you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for letting me know! Hopefully others who check this post out will see the added endorsements here and give it a whirl. Good stuff!

Best wishes,

11:18 AM  
Blogger Todd Mason said...

And it's one of the better films made from the fiction of my favorite under-appreciated crime-fiction writer, William McGivern (others include ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW and the expanded KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATER episode, early work by director Robert Altman, NIGHTMARE IN CHICAGO0.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for mentioning McGivern, Todd! I liked the film ROGUE COP based on his novel and wish it would come out on DVD.

Best wishes,

9:42 AM  

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