Saturday, March 26, 2011
The Big Heat. A-
Looking deeper, closer at The Big Heat is a pathway to hidden secrets, things you don't see on the surface of this juicy gangster noir. Consider, for example, the film's detective, Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford), and how different he really is from all the Sam Spade's we've seen in noir history. It's very common for the detective in mysteries to be a bachelor, which shows both his distance from suburban society and also allows for some love interest with the treacherous ladies who inevitably will enter into his life. Bannion looks and acts the part of a bachelor detective, which is why it's such a surprise when we find out he's a family man with a wife, a daughter, a home. Nope, no apartment here. They have a wonderfully homely little house, and seeing Bannion in it eating dinner with his wife, you'd never guess he was a cop. And this is vital to the story, because it's Bannion's love for his family that he becomes who he is. In a terrible turn of events, his wife is murdered, leaving Bannion on the edge and fighting for the truth. In Roger Ebert's Great Movies essay of the film, he also recognizes the depths of the film, not profound truths but fascinating revelations about the characters. Ebert writes that Bannion sets up woman (there are lots of them in the movie), lets their death affirm his hatred for the film's villains, and then gets his revenge. Also, notice how Bannion doesn't fall in love with any of the woman, not because he doesn't like them, but because he loves his wife and can't love anything else without the truth. The Big Heat is a movie boiling with hatred, fierce and fearless, and at times shocking. The hatred does not just burn in Bannion, but in the supporting players, in their self-centered lives, in their animalistic tendencies, especially around a pot of coffee. The story itself is not the most memorable that Fritz Lang has told, but the movie lies on the verge of greatness because of the characters, especially Bannion, who sets the table according to his own interests. For the bad guys, not a good sign.