Saturday 4 August 2012

1,001 Films: "The Big Heat" (1953)

One of the best crime films Fritz Lang made within the studio system, the tough, unsentimental procedural The Big Heat charts the erosion of several American bedrocks: the family, the justice system, democracy itself. Glenn Ford's good cop Dave Bannion refuses to drop suicide and murder cases that point toward widespread corruption on his own force; when his enemies start striking close to home, he merely makes his investigation personal. There's an argument that journo-turned-director Sam Fuller would have punched up the source material (a serial in the Saturday Evening Post) further still, but Lang's film retains a newspaperman's sense of the scope of this story, and of the scale of the racketeering, extending sideways to scenes with Bannion's nervy superiors and upwards to a crime boss with political aspirations. Everybody remembers an unhinged Lee Marvin, as the kingpin's chief heavy, scalding nice Gloria Grahame with a pot of coffee (an act of violence kept off-screen, but still shocking), but Ford gives one of his most underrated performances: a trenchcoated knight less ironised than a Spade or a Marlowe, he's also able to play the cardigan-wearing familyman in a way Bogart, Mitchum or (especially) Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer almost certainly couldn't.

The Big Heat is available on DVD through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

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