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The Big Heat (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on June 30, 2013

After two viewings, I was sufficiently underwhelmed with this movie to put it on my list of “Noir Classics I’m Not That Crazy About“.  So why did I buy it on Blu-Ray?  I was already considering it, and when it was announced that limited run pressing was running out I decided I’d better take the plunge.  It’s not as if I didn’t like the movie, and I felt there had to be more to this highly-praised noir that I was missing.

Like Scarlet Street, it’s a better Fritz Lang noir than I previously gave it credit for.  The increase in my appreciation of it isn’t large enough to place it in my top 100 noirs (where other Lang noirs like Human Desire and Secret Beyond the Door reside) but I feel very comfortable having it in my collection.  There’s a lot more nuance to the Glenn Ford character than I picked up on before.  His single-minded quest for justice is so self-centered that he indirectly ends up destroying almost every woman he has contact with.  The forces he’s fighting are evil, but something about his righteousness carries a cloud of evil over him as well.

It also shouldn’t be underestimated how much Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin bring to the table.  While you can’t help wishing they had more screen time (especially Grahame, who consistently delivers the goods in everything she does), their presence injects so much gritty sensibility into the second half of the film that you have to categorize at least the last 45 minutes as Essential Noir.

And then there are the small touches, like “Put the Blame on Mame” (from Gilda, another Columbia noir with Glenn Ford) playing in the bar or the cold callousness of the parting line “Keep the coffee hot”.  I still find the cinematography rather bland for the most part and the first half of the movie doesn’t thrill me much.  But maybe another viewing will put this film into my favorites.  For now I can at least say that I underrated it the first two times.  Rating: Very Good (82)


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