Wednesday, July 22, 2009

THE BIG HEAT (1953)

A corrupt policeman kills himself, leaving behind a letter incriminating wealthy Alexander Scourby as a major crime boss. The cop's widow (Jeanette Nolan) keeps the letter as insurance; as long as she's alive and taken care of by Scourby, the info is safe, but if she dies, the DA gets the letter. Good cop Glenn Ford thinks the circumstances of the suicide are fishy and starts getting nosy with Scourby's thugs, including sadistic henchman Lee Marvin. When a car bomb meant for him instead kills his wife, the case becomes personal; the police department disowns him and Ford becomes a kind of early Dirty Harry vigilante figure, getting some help from a couple other good cops and from Marvin's abused mistress, Gloria Grahame (pictured, with Marvin).

This Fritz Lang movie, often a little misleadingly labeled a film noir, is a fairly brutal example of the crime film genre, not just with the behavior of Marvin's character, but also that of Ford, who beats up Scourby's bodyguard pretty thoroughly and physically threatens women when it suits his needs. There's a moment when Ford is giving a thug an ass-whooping when I fully expected him to say something like, "Do ya feel lucky, punk?" The scene that made this movie famous has Marvin throwing a pot of hot coffee in Grahame's face, scarring her for life. While the scene is effective, the better scene is later when she returns the favor. Ford, who I usually find to be a rather wooden actor, is good here, as are Scourby and Nolan, but best of all is the slurry-talking Grahame as a world-weary tramp who seems to know that she's destined for a bad end, one way or another. Jocelyn Brando, Marlon's sister, plays Ford's wife, and a blond Carolyn Jones has a bit part. Not particularly noirish in style, but worth a view for fans of the genre, or for fans of hard-boiled cop films. [TCM]

2 comments:

Jim said...

This is a great film! And not just because Glenn Ford looked like my uncle. Rather, I had an uncle who looked like Glenn Ford.

Michael said...

Were you lucky enough to have an aunt who looked like Gloria Grahame?