Now the lid’s coming off the garbage can!
Detective Sergeant Dave Bannion, a hardworking, honest cop in a city full of corrupt ones. When he begins to look into the apparent suicide of a fellow police officer, he starts to discover evidence that the cop was taking bribes.
His investigation upsets the delicate balance of power between the police, politicians and the local mobsters. After a confrontation with local mob leader Mike Lagana goes bad. A car bomb meant for him kills his wife Kaite (Jocelyn Brando, Marlon’s older sister). Bannion resigns and quickly becomes a man possessed with getting his revenge on everyone involved in the plot.
The Big Heat has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best in the film noir genre. Helping this is a power house cast including Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin and helmed by veteran director Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M, Fury).
While most films in this genre are known for their snappy dialog, this one stands out. Most of the characters have at least one good line (or more) and the banter and one liners crackle back and forth throughout the film.
The cinematography is classic Lang. While not as distinctly expressionist as Metropolis, or M, due to budget limits and Hollywood controls. The director’s distinctive style is apparent all through the film.
Glenn Ford plays the avenging hero perfectly, seemingly just on the edge of flying apart in a complete breakdown.
Also watch for Lee Marvin in a particularly vicious role as mob enforcer Vince Stone. While he seems to hate everybody, he takes a particular sadistic glee in torturing women, burning a waitress’ hand with a lit cigarette, for example.
One scene with Gloria Grahame is especially cruel. While not particularly graphic by today’s standards, the implied violence is brutal. It’s a testament to Lang’s skill as a director that they were able to get it through the censors.
This and other scenes of often casual violence add a real authenticity to the film. You realize that everyone, heroes, villains, cops and mobsters are playing for real stakes and aren’t afraid to do anything to win.
An interesting trivia tidbit is that Columbia nearly made a deal to cast Marylin Monroe as Debby but backed out to the amount 20th Century Fox wanted. It makes you wonder how Marylin would have played the role and if it would have helped her avoid her battles with typecasting.
Gloria Grahame plays the role well, though. Her reputation for being flighty and neurotic works in this case, since it perfectly fits the character she plays. In the film her character goes from being the pampered pet of a mob enforcer, to a horribly abused woman bent on getting vengeance of her own.
Verdict 4 Gavels out of 5 A classic film noir with terrific dialog and characters. Lee Marvin plays one of the nastiest roles of his career. A must see for fans of film noir, Fritz Lang fans and anyone who likes a good crime story.