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The Big Heat

Directed by Fritz Lang

USA, 1953

HOME, 6 June 2017

The Big Heat

One of those unfussy, well-crafted films that you come back to again and again.

Lee Marvin, in an early role as a flashy gangster, is in decent form here. His moll is Gloria Grahame, who innocently complains to an upright cop that he is ‘as romantic as a pair of handcuffs’, and she is pretty good too (though In a Lonely Place remains her best film). But it is Glenn Ford as the said upright cop who carries the film. He specialised in a certain kind of character, did Glenn Ford, the unpretentious good man whose virtue is mistaken for weakness. Here bad guys push him, but as is usual they push him a little too far, thereby unleashing a whirlwind.

There are two themes that struck me when watching the film this time out. First off, what you might call exile and renewal: Ford leaving the desolate family home, Grahame clinging to the darkness to hide her disfigurement. Their banishment and return to the human world coming at a cost. Second, the intriguing and on the whole convincing portrait of post-war America: a nation on a crusade. These guys, like Ford’s cop Dave Bannion, had likely fought in Normandy and the Ardennes and liberated the camps (Samuel Fuller, for one, was there at Falkenau). They had fought evil abroad and were not going to turn a blind eye to it at home.

A great film, one which I expect I’ll watch again one day.

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