Big Heat, The (1953)

The Big Heat (1953), directed by Fritz Lang.

Detective Glenn Ford is an honest cop in a corrupt department in a city run by a suave, rich gangster. He won't stop pushing, and when his wife is killed by a car bomb, he gets really mad.

This is the one where Lee Marvin throws a pot of boiling coffee in Gloria Grahame's face. Turnabout is fair play -- she later does the same to him.

In his grief, Ford becomes bitterly self-righteous, believing he is the only honest man, the only one with any courage, "me against the world". In a good twist he learns that's not so. Some other cops help him, and his brother-in-law has army buddies who are not afraid of the gangsters.

It has good features and a good cast, but it's a bit light on plot and I didn't find the whole project that gripping. For a seriously toned, realistic crime thriller, too much time is spent in static interiors. The camera work seems to be intentionally low-drama, moving mostly to frame the actors. When it does move it makes fluid, interesting motions in three dimensions.

I've always liked Gloria Grahame and she has more to do here than usual, but her habit of stuffing cotton under her upper lip makes her look strange and doesn't help her enunciation.

Jocelyn Brando, playing the detective's wife, is a remarkable match for later actress Anne Archer.

The DVD has appreciations by Michael Mann (10 minutes) and Martin Scorsese (5 minutes). One of them points out that the film has four strong women, all of whom are dead at the end. Protagonist Glenn Ford is the connecting thread.