WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Expressionist Fritz Lang is best known for his masterpieces Metropolis and M. In The Big Heat, the director tries his hand at film noir, and the results are flawed but very good. For its time, The Big Heat was a vicious thriller with a particularly hard-boiled and cynical protagonist. The film also contains a surprising amount of violence toward women: No fewer than four women die in The Big Heat, and one is scarred for life in a shocking scene of sadism. This film laid the foundation for such depictions of corruption as Orson Welles's Touch of Evil.
Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is a good cop—a family man who plays it straight at his suburban home and at the precinct. When a series of murders makes him aware of a deep and widespread corruption that infects even his superiors, he finds himself more and more embroiled in a nightmarish investigation. Finally, an attack on his perfect family turns Bannion ballistic, and he determines to hunt down the sleaze responsible with guns blazing. Lee Marvin is slimy and perfect as the hoodlum Vince Stone, and Gloria Grahame is feisty and fun as put-upon two-timer Debby Marsh.
I particularly enjoyed the film's depiction of Bannion's suburban bliss. His wife, Katie Bannion (Jocelyn Brando, Marlon's sister) is drop-dead gorgeous, and his daughter is cute as a button. The family's dialog is Norman Rockwell heartwarming. When tragedy strikes, you almost cheer.
When all is said and done, however, The Big Heat suffers from dull passages, and Ford never truly comes across as the cynical, hard-nosed antihero he wants to be. The plot plays out rather predictably.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Columbia's presentation of The Big Heat is impressive. In its original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio, the film exhibits some dirt and wear—particularly at the beginning—but the image is sharp throughout. Lang's careful black-and-white compositions are striking, and the noir mood comes across moodily.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
I noticed nothing exceptional about this mono presentation. All dialog is rendered naturally, and I detected no severe loss of fidelity.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Extras are sparse. You get three trailers from the era of ultracool trailers: The Big Heat, The Lady From Shanghai, and Suddenly, Last Summer. Also included are lobby cards for The Big Heat.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
The Big Heat is a nifty little noir thriller that isn't quite as good as it could be. As much as I was looking forward to Glenn Ford as the good-cop-turned-mad, he ultimately disappointed—along with Lang's too-slow pace.