The Big Heat (1953)

September 11, 2006

Sadly, Glenn Ford passed away the other week on August 30. bigheat.jpgI am not overly familiar with Ford’s body of work. In fact, other than Superman, which I last saw many many years ago, the only film starring Ford that I could remember seeing was Gilda. Ford was certainly memorable in this film, however, giving a splendid performance opposite Rita Hayworth. I read and heard a bit about Ford’s life after his passing. He seemed like a real stand-up guy who maintained a real grounded perspective throughout his life, habitually putting aside his Hollywood career for military service and other worthy causes. It sounds like we have lost a true class act.

Over the weekend, I decided to watch The Big Heat, a film noir starring Ford and directed by the legendary Fritz Lang. Ford plays the role of Dave Bannion, a policeman whose wife is murdered while he is investigating a homicide case. Seeking justice, Bannion must battle a corrupt police force that is in league with the mob. The cast is exceptional, featuring the likes of Ford, Lee Marvin, Gloria Grahame, and several other faces that will be recognizable to fans of the classics. As a self-proclaimed classics fan myself, and considering I’ve already confessed that I have been rather remiss in my Glenn Ford viewing, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that this is also the first Fritz Lang film I’ve seen. Perhaps I can further rectify this deficiency in the coming weeks with my horror film viewings (Lang directed some supposedly great silent-era horrors).

I can find nothing to complain about with this film. It is an engaging story from start to finish with a great script. It is extremely well acted – Lee Marvin, in particular, does a fantastic job as the menancing mobster Vince Stone, as does Gloria Grahame in her role as Stone’s girlfriend. Lang’s direction is also fantastic. Tightly and carefully shot, Lang sustains a threatening tension throughout the film.

Released in 1953, The Big Heat seems in many ways to contain elements of earlier film noirs while also looking forwards towards noirs yet to come. Many of the characters (some of whom, like Grahame’s, can almost be viewed allegorically) seem to be reminiscent of some of the noirs of the 40s. The dark, violent atmosphere, on the other hand, foretells of the noirs that would continue to emerge in the 50s. At any rate, the combination of elements certainly comes out to good effect. I tend to like most film noirs, so the fact that I like this film on its own is not that surprising. Yet, this honestly is one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s up there with The Asphalt Jungle, Kiss Me Deadly, and some of my other favorites.

ford.jpgAs for Glenn Ford, he gave a stellar performance. Even in this single film, he was able to demonstrate his versatility as an actor – portraying loving husband, vengeful cop, and everything in between perfectly. With films like this as testimony, there is no question his legacy as a fine actor will survive for a long, long time.