Los Angeles Times

Movie review, 'The Big Heat'

In many ways, Fritz Lang's "The Big Heat," scripted by former crime reporter Sydney Boehm, laid the groundwork not only for "Dirty Harry," but for the whole sub-genre of "rogue cop" films that began to surface during the Vietnam era.

This 1953 "angry cop noir" stars the usually bland Glenn Ford as Dave Bannion, a clean cop who trawls the slimy underworld of the city for a living. One night, a crooked cop named Duncan kills himself, guilty for his many years of accepting bribes and looking the other way. His suicide kick-starts a series of murder investigations involving crime kingpin Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) and his sadistic henchman, Vince Stone (Lee Marvin). But when these hoods cross the line, bringing death to a member of Bannion's family, the easygoing cop goes ballistic, vowing revenge against those evildoers who tried to scare him off.

The acting highlight of the film is provided by Gloria Grahame as Vince's good-time girlfriend, Debby Marsh. Her lack of respect for the evil that surrounds her earns her a scalding pot of coffee in the face, and once scarred for life, she turns into the masked avenger who does much of Bannion's dirty work for him. (Debby's confrontation scene with Duncan's corrupt widow is a classic.)

Some critics have suggested that "The Big Heat" is a crime-world allegory for Hitler's rise to power, a situation that the German-born Lang was all too familiar with. In that vein, it is interesting to note that the ones who help topple Lagana are not the corrupt city fathers, but those who frequent the darker side of town, including barflies, crippled junkyard workers and hookers with hearts of gold.

4 stars
"The Big Heat"

Plays Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 A.M. at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. Tickets are $8.50, with discount passes available. Call 773-871-6604.

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