The Big Heat is a searing, violent film noir from famed director Fritz Lang. The first Twilight Time Blu-ray sold out quickly, and it is once again available in this encore edition which includes a number of extras which were not available with the earlier Blu-ray.
The Production: 5/5
I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better. – Debby Marsh
The Big Heat is a searing, violent film noir from famed director Fritz Lang. This encore edition from Twilight Time features a glorious, pristine black & white transfer. The Big Heat features an outstanding cast including Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin, and contains one of the most shocking scenes of brutality ever shot for a film noir (notwithstanding the fact that the worst of it occurs off-camera).
The Big Heat takes place in the fictional city of Kenport, which we quickly learn is awash in political corruption. The film opens with the 3:00 a.m. suicide of Tom Duncan, who was in charge of the Record Bureau at the Kenport Police Department. The gunshot awakens his wife, Bertha (Jeannette Nolan), who is curiously unaffected by the site of her husband’s body slumped over his desk. She approaches and picks up an envelope addressed to the District Attorney. She opens the envelope, peruses the contents, and picks up the telephone. Instead of calling the police, she wakes up Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby), a mobster who effectively runs Kenport. She informs Lagana that they need to meet. Only then does she report the suicide to the police, but by the time they arrive the envelope is nowhere to be seen.
The investigation is headed up by Sergeant Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford), an honest plainclothes cop who works in homicide. Duncan’s death is a clear-cut case of suicide, but Bannion is perplexed because there is no apparent motive for Duncan killing himself. Bannion questions the widow, who tells him that Duncan had for some time been plagued by severe pain in his side but had refused to get medical attention. Bannion seems to be totally satisfied with her explanation until he receives a telephone call while dining at home with his wife, Katie (Jocelyn Brando). He learns that the police have received a tip from Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green), a bar girl who works at a nightclub called The Retreat. Bannion meets her and listens with disbelief as Lucy insists that Duncan was in perfect health and that his wife had agreed to divorce him. Bannion does not believe Lucy but is sufficiently intrigued that he decides to follow up on her allegations. However, his doubts are the least of Lucy’s problems. One of Lagana’s henchmen, Larry Gordon (Adam Williams), sees Lucy talking with Bannion, which does not bode well for her.
In the meantime, we are introduced to Vince Stone (Lee Marvin), Lagana’s right-hand man and a flashy dresser who spends freely and has a volatile temper. Vince lives in a fancy apartment with his “doll,” Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame). Debby is a girl who enjoys the good life and good-naturedly mocks Vince for the way in which he obsequiously jumps whenever Lagana calls. Bannion goes back to see Mrs. Duncan to question her about what he was told by Lucy Chapman. The meeting goes well until Bannion asks her about a vacation home which Duncan owned. Mrs. Duncan takes umbrage at this line of questioning. “For Tom’s sake,” she replies, “I resent the implication.” The following day Bannion is called on the carpet by Lt. Wilks (Willis Bouchey), who was received a complaint from the Police Commissioner that Bannion has been hounding Mrs. Duncan. Wilks, who is nearing retirement, obviously has no intention of ruffling any feathers while he can see his pension on the horizon.
Bannion comes to suspect that Lagana is involved when his wife Katie receives a threatening phone call. In just two short scenes director Lang effectively conveys the fact that the Bannions have a very good marriage. They dote on their daughter and they enjoy bantering with each other. Significantly, Katie never complains when Bannion’s work calls him away at night. After receiving the phone call, Bannion makes the fateful decision to confront Lagana at his palatial residence. This sets off a series of violent events which are truly horrifying and which have dire consequences for several of the principal characters.
Although Gloria Grahame shares top billing with Glenn Ford and Jocelyn Brando, as Debby she appears in only one scene during the first 40 minutes of The Big Heat. Thereafter, however, the sexy but somewhat naive Debby plays a prominent role as the action unfolds. She is well aware of Vince’s violent streaks, but most of the time he treats her well and she has philosophically accepted that she has to take the bad with the good. Lee Marvin in chilling at Vince, and a very young Carolyn Jones briefly appears in one scene which highlights Vince’s vicious streak. Glenn Ford is fine as the dedicated cop who is capable of becoming ruthlessly vengeful. Alexander Scourby is convincing as the slick mobster Lagana, and Jocelyn Brando (Marlon’s older sister) delivers a sweet and sympathetic portrayal as Bannion’s wife. Jeannette Nolan also is deserving of notice as the wily and conniving widow of the suicide victim.
The Big Heat is an inconic film noir which also is available on DVD. While the DVD transfer is fine, this Blu-ray really brings out the strong contrasts, evocative shadows and exceptional compositions which are associated with Fritz Lang’s films.
3D Rating: NA
As noted, the picture quality of this Blu-ray release is outstanding. The transfer, which appears to be identical to that on the earlier Twilight Time Blu-ray, is consistently sharp and free of damage, with deep, inky black levels, outstanding contrast and excellent shadow detail. There also are a number of wonderful close-ups which display exceptional detail. As is typical of films from Sony’s vault, this transfer retains an appropriate lever of film grain and the result is a pleasing, cinematic experience which undoubtedly emulates – and perhaps improves upon – the way the film looked when it was released in theaters nearly 60 years ago. The superb cinematography is credited to Charles Lang (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Man from Laramie, The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven, and many more). The Big Heat is properly framed at 1.33:1.
Robert A. Harris reviewed the original Twilight Time release in 2012 and his comments remain germane:
The lossless 1.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack accurately reproduces the film’s original mono sound. The dialogue is clear and understandable, and the audio is free of unwanted hiss and distortion. The mono sound obviously does not lend itself to spectacular sound effects, but the occasional explosion and sounds of gunfire pack some punch. As is typically the case with Twilight Time releases, the film can be viewed accompanied by the isolated score track (the uncredited score is by composer Henry Vars).
Special Features: 3.5/5
The additional extras on this encore edition Blu-ray differentiate it from the original Twilight Time release, which contained only the film’s theatrical trailer and the isolated score track (both of which are reprised here).
The new additions include a very entertaining commentary track by Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo, and film historian Lem Dobbs. Julie makes the very interesting observation that the victims in The Big Heat are females. She also is not a big fan of Glenn Ford, relegating him to the second tier of Hollywood’s leading men. Many interesting aspect of the career of Fritz Lang also are covered.
Also new are two featurettes, “Michael Mann on The Big Heat” and “Martin Scorsese on The Big Heat.” The famed directors given their impressions of the film and how they have been influenced by it.
The enclosed illustrated booklet contains the same informative essay by Julie Kirgo which was included with the earlier Twilight Time release.
The Big Heat is a classic film noir by one of the finest directors of the genre. Fans of the film who own the earlier release may want to double-dip for the new extras, and those who missed it now have a new opportunity to own this terrific Blu-ray.
Viewers who enjoy this film should seek out Fritz Lang’s famed German film noir, M, and his follow-up American film noir, Human Desire (which also stars Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame).