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The Big Heat (Dual Format Limited Edition) [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
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Fritz Lang’s iconic film noir masterpiece is an uncompromising exploration of corruption and violence at the dark heart of small-town America. Glenn Ford is the good cop in a bad town, who single-handedly takes on local mobsters headed by Alexander Scourby and his psychotic right-hand man Lee Marvin.
Dave Bannion is an upright cop on the trail of a vicious gang he suspects holds power over the police force. Bannion is tipped off after a colleague's suicide and his fellow officers' suspicious silence lead him to believe that they are on the gangsters' payroll. When a bomb meant for him kills his wife instead, Bannion becomes a furious force of vengeance and justice, aided along the way by the gangster's spurned girlfriend Debbie. As Bannion and Debbie fall further and further into the Gangland's insidious and brutal trap, they must use any means necessary (including murder) to get to the truth.
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Audio commentary by film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
- New filmed appreciation by film historian Tony Rayns
- Martin Scorsese on The Big Heat
- Michael Mann on The Big Heat
- Isolated score
- Original theatrical trailer
- Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
- New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by critic Glenn Kenny
- Limited Dual Format Edition of 3,000 copies
- UK Blu-ray premiere
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Glenn Ford now looks like one of the most quietly powerful actors of Hollywood`s `Golden Age`, and it was taut performances like this one that made him such big box office for so long. He had a rare ability to portray a kind of slow-burn tension, here a homely family man who is also perhaps an eternal loner, and who may well be hiding a few unexorcised demons. He has reason enough for the cold rage Ford does so well by the second half of this relentless thriller. It`s a deftly masterful performance.
Lee Marvin gives notice of how natural he could be, as well as how smilingly vicious. Then there`s the notorious pot of scalding coffee...
Gloria Grahame was born for roles like this one, both tough and vulnerable, the ultimate tragic moll. She`s terrific here, almost as if she were in her own world, in a film of her own devising.
Alexander Scourby, a suave, beautifully spoken actor better known in the US than here, is slickly superb as the mobster kingpin, with Adam Williams (later to turn up as a similarly slimy baddie in Hitchcock`s North By Northwest) good as one of his lowly minions, a big baby-faced heel you just know won`t make it to the final reel.
Twenty-two year-old Carolyn (Morticia Addams) Jones, in her sixth film, has a brief but effective scene getting mauled by Marvin in a bar.
If you like film noir, if you are a Ford fan, if you appreciate any chance to watch Grahame, and if you revere Marvin, then you`ll want to see this dark and seedy movie.
This is a film I watch at least once a year, and it never fails to entertain. One of the great dark thrillers to make it out of post-war Hollywood.
Matching the incision of the narrative drive is the superb mise-en-scene which Lang deploys to delineate the differences between the corrupt immoral world of Lagana and the upright moral world of Bannion. Ingeniously, Lang paints immorality as a positive - Lagana's impressive mansion, the Duncans' well-appointed house, Vince's stylish penthouse suite and the chic jazz bar named 'The Retreat'. There's nothing menacing or sinister about any of these bright well-lit locations. Lang reserves seediness for the world of the honest people - the police bureau and especially Bannion's home. In the film corruption is seen as all-pervasive and because corruption is in place all the way up to the police commissioner (who plays poker with Stone!) Bannion's investigation amounts to a criminal activity which everyone wants to see quashed. In the world of the bad, it is a crime to be good - it's possible Lang thought he had captured the very essence of American society here! At any rate, the sophisticated facade of respectability does sucker in Bannion at first. It needs a dirty phone call to his wife and a bomb to really turn him into a rogue cop fighting against the system.
One of the many interesting things about the film is the fact that Lang was working from a script already in place and many of the key sequences were written by Boehm, not Lang. This means that many things are in the film which we don't find in other Lang films. The Bannion marriage (Jocelyn Brando - sister of Marlon - playing much better than many claim) is depicted as a warm positive - other Lang films show marriage to be anything but. Also the character of Bannion himself is an out-and-out hero who actually defeats the destiny machine (the organized crime depicted in the film) and leaves the film with society changed for the good. No other Lang 'hero' is so upright and morally 'clean'. There is a warmth to the picture which is absent from much of his other work. Note the way Bannion solves the investigation courtesy of people helping him (the old lady at the demolition yard, his old war buddies who protect his daughter, even his old partner and boss who eventually change their hearts) and there is a very real sense of a tragic man who has lost his life and his home (the sequence in his empty house), but who regains interest in life through the actions of a woman who yearns for the domestic joys which have always elluded her. The last scene of Debbie dying in Bannion's arms while he tells her about his wife is deeply moving in a sentimental manner rare in Lang.
And yet, master film-maker as Lang was, we have to acknowledge the extent to which he changed Boehm's script to something more starkly Langian. Most obvious is Lang's insertion of extra violence such as Stone stubbing the girl in the bar with his cigarette. Then there is the ending of the film which Lang completely re-wrote. Boehm originally had Lagana kill Mrs Duncan so that with Debbie free of guilt she was allowed a happy ending with wedding bells ringing in the distance for her and Bannion! Lang makes Bannion into a harder, colder character. One reading of the film would be that 'Bannion the rogue cop out to bring the system down' actually achieves nothing himself. He brings down Lagana by using Debbie instead. We musn't ignore Debbie's own motivation for shooting Mrs Duncan (which is clearly there in the script), but she is used by Bannion nevertheless. She dies in the process, as do all the women in the film who associate with Bannion. Something in Bannion seems to die along with his wife and every time a character tries to help him, he simply brushes them aside with some kind of acid comment (Debbie receives the brunt of this). The clincher for me is when he throws the gun on the bed for Debbie to (presumably) protect herself. Actually he is asking her (consciously? sub-consciously?) to go ahead and kill Mrs Duncan for him.
And let's not get carried away by the film's 'positive' ending. In the coda, life goes on at the police bureau meaning that 'the big heat' brought down by Bannion on organized crime hasn't entirely cleaned things up. Bannion's last action is to answer yet another phone call which might set everything up all over again, an added chaser being to order the coffee be kept heated up as he leaves - this in a film where we know exactly how dangerous that beverage can be!!
As you can tell, I think the film is a masterpiece - it never dulls with repeated viewings. The script and direction are so good that the acting just falls perfectly into place. Gloria Grahame has received most of the plaudits from the critics, but for me it is Glenn Ford who delivers the film's greatest performance. It's a masterpiece of non-performance in which the mechanics of the acting craft utterly disappear. The DVD itself is a model of its kind. Released by Columbia, the images are as crisp and as steely hard as one could wish for - a welcome change from the usual poor state of available transfers of Lang's other American films. Now if only Fury (1936), You Only Live Once (1937), Scarlet Street (1945), House by the River (1950) and The Blue Gardenia (1951) could receive the same treatment...
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