The Big Heat (1953) – Fritz Lang

The next big title in DK Books’ highly informative and entertaining The Movie Book is Fritz Lang’s iconic film M, which I have previously reviewed, but on the What Else to Watch list I came across a title I had’t seen or reviewed before and was eager to dive into, Lang’s 1953 cop noir Thee Big Heat.

Screen legend Glenn Ford plays Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion. He’s a good cop, with a loving wife and daughter, but he just drew a helluva case. Investigating the death of a cop, which was ruled a suicide, Bannion finds himself caught up in a political conspiracy and cover-up that goes all the way up, and is willing to do anything to keep the bodies buried, including adding to them, and Bannion and his family are next in line.

He comes into conflict with his lieutenant (Willis Bouchey), and the commissioner (Howard Wendell), as well as the criminal element at work in the city overseen by Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) and his right hand man, the violent and sadistic Vince Stone (Lee Marvin).

Stone’s moll, Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame) is drawn between Stone and Bannion, but Dave is focused on one thing only, justice and revenge, and both of these meet as the hard-boiled cop goes after the truth.

The story is tightly wound and Ford is a power to be reckoned with as he pursues his goals with single-minded purpose. The pacing and the story beats are well-executed, and while some of them have since been echoed, stolen and paid homage to throughout the years, they play out freshly here as Bannion roughhouses witnesses and suspects. bigheat

This was a film I hadn’t even heard of before I dug into The Movie Book, and I was delighted to discover it. Both Ford and Marvin are great in this film, and while it’s not as edgy a film as it would be if made today, I love that it played up the corruption and conspiracy that was at work, as well as letting Marvin’s Stone be as brutal and vicious as he is.

Ford is perfect as the unflappable and unstoppable cop, even after everything he goes through, he is fixed with a single minded purpose, and no one is going to stand in his way. And if they do, they are definitely going to be sorry.

And the way Debby and Stone play out! Loved it!

My biggest drawback to the film is despite the subject matter, the world Bannion moves through doesn’t feel as gritty and dirty as it should, which would have made an even stronger counterpoint to his almost idyllic home life (until his job interrupts it).

A fantastic little film that you should definitely take a look at. And if you grab a copy of DK Canada’s The Movie Book, you can find other films as well that will delight and entertain! Check it out!


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