Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Big Heat (1953)

(SLWB  September 21, 2011)

There are elements in great Noir films that catapult those individual films into the stratosphere. You know them when you see them, or hear them. I enjoy great cinematography, either great sleazy locations or great stylized studio sets, incredible set pieces that are icing on the cake. I grin at memorable characters that leave indelible marks on my soul, smile at thirty-five cents for a bottle of beer, and I love Femme Fatales to die for.

The Big Heat has the Femme Fatale to die for. Directed by Fritz Lang (The Woman in the Window (1944), 
Ministry of Fear (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), The Blue Gardenia (1953), Human Desire (1954), While the City Sleeps (1956). Cinematography by Charles Lang (Ace in the Hole (1951), Sudden Fear (1952), Female on the Beach (1955)). Music was by Henry Vars.
The film stars Glen Ford (seven Classic Noir, Experiment in Terror (1962) The Money Trap (1965) and Rage (1966)), Gloria Grahame (nine Classic Noir), Jocelyn Brando (three Classic Noir), along with Alexander Scourby, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Selma Parker, and Carolyn Jones.
Bannion (Ford)
Debbie (Grahame)
Bertha (Nolan)
Vince Stone (Marvin)
Laguna (Scourby)
The story based on a novel by William P. McGivern, takes place in Philadelphia. A fastidious high ranking police records official Duncan, commits suicide and strangely leaves no note. Detective Bannion begins to investigate the circumstances uncovering mob connections to crime boss Mike Lagana (Scourby). 

Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green)

He gets the skinny from The Retreat "B" girl Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green) that he wasn't sick, as Duncan's wife Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) claims, but that he was going to get a divorce and shack up with her. The next day he picks up a county squeal of the teletype that a girl meeting Lucy's description is found strangled on the side of a road with cigarette burns all over her body. Bannion checks and makes her ID at the morgue. Bannion goes back to The Retreat to pump the bartender for leads. 

Retreat Bartender: First I know Lucy's quitting is about two in the morning. She comes and asks to be paid off.
Bannion: Did she say why?
Retreat Bartender: I don't ask, all these dames owe me is a night's work, one night at a time, they come and go like flies.
Bannion: Only this flies got strangled. 
Retreat Bartender: These things happen sergeant, out side of my place these babes keep pretty shady company. It figures they know nobody cares that much what happens to them.
Bannion: She have any close friends among the other girls here?
Retreat Bartender:They don't stay around long enough to make friends.
Bannion: Where did she live?
Retreat Bartender:If I ask for an address they lie, so I don't even bother. The're floaters, not much more than a suitcase full of nothin' between them and the gutter. 

Bannion's pressure on the mob is bringing heat upon himself in his own department. When his wife answers the phone she's gets bombarded with foul language from one of Laguna's goons. They want Bannion to cool it. Bannion drives to Laguna's home and tells him to lay off. Laguna thinks he can buy him off like other dirty cops but Bannion tells him off. Laguna attempts to have one of his goons throw him out but Bannion knocks him down and asks Laguna if he wants to "tag team."

Tag Team
Now that Bannion's investigations start cutting to close to Lagana's home the mob plants a bomb in Bannion's car but his wife (Jocelyn Brando) is killed starting it instead of him. Bannion goes rogue and checks into a hotel after his wife is buried.

Katie Bannion (Brando)

Thwarted officially from starting an investigation Bannion goes rogue after the corrupt officials in the department try to tell him that it was probably the revenge of one of the relatives of one of the criminals he sent to the chair. They are going to check on his old files. a case of mistaken identity a union official across the street was supposed to be the bomb target. Bannion calls them out on it and is put under suspension by Police Commissioner Higgins (Howard Wendell),

Police Commissioner Higgins: Why there isn't a man in the Department who wouldn't give a months pay to break this case.
Bannion: What about you Commissioner? How much would you give?
Police Commissioner Higgins: Just What are you inferring Sergeant?
Bannion: I'm asking how much would you give besides a bunch of phony stories to the Newspapers and a bunch of pats on the back to me?

Bannion calls his immediate superior a frightened excuse for a cop and the commissioner basically the lap dog of Laguna.

Police Commissioner Higgins: You're under suspension.
Bannion: Maybe you'd better check with Laguna first.

On a side note about the car bomb: This is 1950's cars were started by turning the key to turn on the ignition, then you had to push a foot button with your foot to engage the starter (they didn't have solenoids back then) A car bomb on these cars would have to be  manufactured out of a starter motor so it could be bolted into place in lieu of the starter. Its a matter of taking the armature out and packing the guts full of explosives and rigging a detonator that activates with the foot button. 

So Bannion with his wife dead and his house gutted, starts checking Philadelphia Wrecking Yards for any that employ ex-cons who may know how to do the job. He finds a connection to Vince Stone (Marvin)

Lagana: Prisons are bulging with dummies who wonder how they got there.

The weak link in the mob organization is Stone's henchmen, Stone lives with his young mistress Debby (Grahame) who is, as Moose Malloy may put it "cute as lace pants"

Bannion runs into Stone in a bar as he is roughing up some customers, Bannion knocks Stone around embarrassing him in front of his peers. Stone then he skedaddles in a rush with two of his goons leaving Debbie marooned at the bar. 

Stone and Doris (Jones)

Debbie is impressed by Bannion

Debbie offers to buy Bannion a drink

Bannion leaves for the hotel but he hears the clicks of high heels on the sidewalk behind him, Debby has followed him out and attaches herself to him, impressed, saying that she never saw anyone put Vince Stone in his place before. Debby falls hard for Bannion, but in 1953 the Hays Code still rules and although Debby accompanies Bannion to his hotel, but of course not much happens between them and (as most always in those days) the "bad" girl must be punished.

Picking up Bannion on the street

In Bannion's hotel room

Grahame is extremely attractive in this film, she has those indelibly memorable gestures and a feline way of moving, that to me is absolutely irresistible. Some women just don't photograph as well when posed, candid and instantaneous shots work better to capture their particular magic.

Of course everything goes Noirsville for Debby.


Sisters under the mink

Caught this again recently on TCM, and have since Picked up the Columbia Film Noir Classic Vol 1 DVD's.

Only one complaint with the Columbia Set release of the Big Heat, it doesn't have a running commentary during the film, but it does have two commentaries by Michael Mann and Martin Scorsese illustrating sections of the film, but they are not quite as satisfying.

One of my favorite Noirs 10/10

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