The Big Heat (1953)

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The Big Heat Movie Review

The Big Heat is a 1953 noir film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Glenn Ford and Lee Marvin. It is a predictable, yet memorably dark movie.

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The main thing is to have the money.

I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor.

Believe me – rich is better.

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Obviously the big problem here is the script which is overly familiar and I’ve seen some of the scenes here multiple times before and after. The pot itself is fine, though definitely standard, but it is executed well and professionally written. However, the problem is the overall predictable nature to the movie. It is so predictable that almost its every plot point is expected. I saw the ending, I knew who was going to die and who is bad and the best example of this predictability lies in the scene where the protagonist’s wife dies. Yes, it is done and filmed well, but everybody would realize what is going to happen in barely a minute there.

I liked its characters. The Big Heat is famous for turning the femme fatale aspect on its head by making the man be fatal for all the women who meet him. That was definitely original and great. I really liked Bannion as he is a complex, memorable noir protagonist and him coping with his wife’s death was really well done. Debby is terrific and she stole the show here as the most interesting and even fascinating character. As for the villains, they are fine and dangerous, but I thought that the decision to reveal them so early was done for better and for worse.

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This isn’t an A-list cast of actors, but they still did such a good job. Gloria Grahame is very good, Lee Marvin is memorably villainous and Glenn Ford was mostly really good and competent in a somewhat difficult role. Of course Fritz Lang’s direction is terrific and it is so great seeing that the director of ‘Metropolis’ could tackle noir along with science fiction. He truly was a great director.

The Big Heat is fascinating for its mature tone and that is its greatest and most authentic accomplishment. It is certainly the most memorable aspect of the entire film. The scene where Vince tortures Debby and throws hot coffee on her face, thus permanently ruining the entire side of her face is certainly the most violent scene that I have ever witnessed in an older film. It is definitely the most memorable part of the film and although too violent, I actually liked it as it raised the stakes for sure.

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But having her get her revenge and doing the same to him later on was a great choice and a further proof of how strong and feminist the women in classic Hollywood movies were. These were great female characters who were strong and capable, but in a realistic manner. I loved Debby. But I also liked that it was an emotional film, subtly emotional in its protagonist’s problems. The ending is so sweet and I adored that speech about his wife that he gave to Debby, so beautiful. The film is also superbly edited as it is deft and doesn’t waste any scene, but also doesn’t rush the story. I just wished that it wasn’t that predictable as it would have been superb, but it is still very good this way and a proof of how talented Lang really was.

What hurt The Big Heat in the long run is the entire predictability of its plot with almost every plot point being expected, but this noir is still so well made, so well directed by Fritz Lang and so well acted that they managed to lift the material to much greater heights. I loved its emotional approach with a couple of beautiful and moving scenes, but the highlight are its memorable characters and most especially its incredibly dark approach with a couple of unforgettable brutal scenes that are not excessive, but help raise the stakes significantly.

My Rating – 4

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Posted in 1950s, 1953, FILM DECADES, MOVIE REVIEWS, noir and tagged , , , , , , , .

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