Monday, November 15, 2010

The Big Heat (1963) Fritz Lang

Although made in 1953, this film is an essential film noir that should not be missed. Mild by today’s standards, the violence must have been shocking back in the 1950s even though most of it takes place off-screen.

Glenn Ford is a by-the-book cop who finds himself surrounded by graft and corruption. His personal life is suddenly impacted, and the rest of the movie is about revenge and how far a person might go to exact it. This is the dark side of the movie. How many lives would you sacrifice to get your revenge?
Ford appears to be somewhat unaware of the sacrifices made on his behalf (complete with his last line in the movie) and is mesmerizing to watch. He coldly operates on the verge of violence and with barely controlled rage throughout the film, and it’s one of his best roles. We know a little more than he does as he slowly pieces things together but there are plenty of surprises.
Gloria Grahame plays a pivotal role and when she’s on the screen, you’ll be paying attention. A young Lee Marvin is evilly sinister, and don’t miss his scene with Carolyn Jones, well before her Addams’ Family fame. Also watch for Jocelyn Brando, the older sister of her famous brother, Marlon.
The real stars of the movie, however, are the director and the cinematographer. The movie is concise, fast-paced, and expertly directed  with no extraneous footage. Cinematography by Charles Lang is beautiful in black & white; he is one of the most Oscar-nominated cinematographers in history and his name is attached to many notable films, e.g., Some Like It Hot, Charade, The Magnificent Seven, Sabrina, and many more. The musical score is riveting but there seems to be disagreement as to the credit, some films sites naming Henry Vars and others, Daniele Amfitheatrof.
Noted Director, Fritz Lang

This story originated as a Saturday Evening Post serial by crime writer William McGivern, and was turned into a screenplay by Sydney Boehm. I'll leave you with Gloria Grahame speaking their words.

“The lid’s off the garbage can and I did it."
"You made better time than they make in the Olympics." 
And the classic: "The main thing is to have the money. I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me, rich is better."