The Big Heat

Movie Review #775: An extraordinary noir that takes advantage of Glenn Ford’s formidable presence to deliver a hard-hitting, daring work of art.

By Red Stewart

Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
Rated NR (contains mature themes, violence)
90 minutes

I grew up watching many neo-noirs, so the cultural influence of the original noir genre has always been intriguing to me. Because of this, I walked into “The Big Heat” with some heavy expectations and, luckily enough, it turned out more than terrific.

The story is a simple concept that takes just the right amount of twists and turns; police detective Dave Bannion finds out that the suicide of a fellow officer may have actually been a murder conducted by the mob, which has bought most of the city. When Bannion tries to investigate, his wife his killed and, with the rest of the police force unwilling to help him, goes on a one-man crusade to take down the ringleader, Mike Lagana.

The greatest surprise I found while watching “The Big Heat” was the level of daringness the filmmakers employed through the writing and direction in a time period where the MPAA placed strict(er) guidelines. In “Metropolis”, Fritz Lang hinted at his cynicism through the vast, architectural expressions of the city. In the near thirty year interlude since then, he has only grown bitterer, and the story’s events portray that gravely. Torture, violence, and death are all commonplace in “The Big Heat”’s setting, and it makes for some genuinely shocking, yet powerful moments.

Ford plays Bannion as a man who has everything to lose, yet still keeps a cool demeanor. However, what separates him from the countless brainless action stars is his believability when faced with threats. He doesn’t degrade to the implausible, “bad assery” of vigilantes, nor those he rise to superhuman levels. He maintains a strong goal and doesn’t deter from it, taking risks as necessary. Alongside him is Gloria Grahame, cast as the girlfriend of Lagana’s enforcer Vince Stone, who becomes intrigued by Bannion’s willingness to stand up to evil. Grahame conveys that innocence turned anger you often see “dames” in supporting roles go through, and she just does a splendid job. Her tone of voice, in particular, stands out; matching the required situation perfectly.

Fans of film noir will find “The Big Heat” extraordinary, and even people like me who walk in not knowing what to expect, will be entertained. It doesn’t aim to be thought-provoking with its mystery, but “The Big Heat” is without a doubt a work of art. ✴


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