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THE BIG HEAT

USA, 1953 (MIFF 1989, Retrospectives)

Director: Fritz Lang

Sydney Boehm's solid, hard-nosed script might have been made into a routine cops-and-robbers thriller, but the director, Fritz Lang, gave it a formalised style. The movie is all a piece; it's designed in light and shadows, and its underworld atmosphere glistens with the possibilities of sadism — this is a definitive film noir, with stunningly choreographed nasty scenes.

Glenn Ford is Dave Bannion, a police lieutenant who ignores the orders of his superiors and investigates a big-time gangster (Alexander Scourby). A bomb is planted in Bannion's car, and his wife (Jocelyn Brando) is blown up. Full of hate, Bannion leaves the department to find revenge. When one of the gangster's henchmen (Lee Marvin) throws scalding coffee at his mistress, a high-living tough-girl lush (Gloria Grahame), and she wants vengeance, too, she joins up with Bannion. And the film accumulates corpses and attests. - Pauline Kael

From the opening shot, the close-up of the revolver... there is a morose intentness on violence. The killings and outrages... are not presented with great physical evidence or detail — several of them occur off-screen — but they determine — menacingly, the course of the action. - Gavin Lambert

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