Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Big Heat


Fritz Lang can be seen as the bridge between German Expressionism, which he helped found, and film noir, which he was instrumental in developing. His masterpiece, M, is considered by many to be the prototypical film noir, and I don’t disagree.

This movie was pretty hard-core for the time it was made. Glenn Ford is a tough cop investigating the suicide of another cop, which is not uncommon but can always be suspicious. Was he mobbed up? Taking pay-offs? About to squeal, or get caught? This leads him into the murder of a bargirl who knew something, but it isn’t his case, and he is warned off. He won’t be warned, and … SPOILER ALERT … his wife is killed in a car bomb meant for him. Now he is relentless, and no warning from the politically-appointed police commissioner—who actually helps cover up murders for the Big Boss Man, that’s how corrupt he is—is going to stop him.

It is smart and well-written, if a little saccharine when dealing with his family. Lee Marvin is at his best, steely-eyed and menacing. The film’s claim to fame is a great performance—after some silly actions and lines early on—by Gloria Grahame as a floozy who turns out to be a lot more than anyone bargained for. The movie’s claim to fame is a scene where Marvin hurls a container of boiling coffee in her face. She is going to be disfigured for life, but she doesn’t take it lying down. Her revenge is gratifying to see, very gratifying. And we do see her scarred face when the bandages come off. This was almost unheard-of in 1953. This is top-of-the-line noir.