The Big Heat

Violence is an action that is not foreign to the film noir. Car crashes, gun wounds and explosions dominate this genre. However in order to play by Hays Code rules and studio restrictions, most of the violence is tame by today’s standards. That statement is mostly true about this film, except for one thing: the violence against women. Each woman who is on the screen for more than a minute is mutilated in some way. Either by cigarette burn, bomb explosion, scalding hot coffee being thrown on their faces or just a gun shot wound, no woman comes out of this picture unharmed. By having this be the standard throughout his whole film, Fritz Lang is commenting on our degradation of women in general. After a while, the violence that is inflicted by a man in power becomes mind numbing. You get kind of used to it. Like you get used to it in everyday life. But should you really be is what I think Lang is asking by the film’s end.

After a detective kills himself, his widow takes the confessional note and decides to blackmail the mob boss into more money. This sets a series of events that involve a do-good cop, Det. Bannion, into bringing down the whole mob circle that rules the town he loves. His moral crusade becomes darker after his ideal home life is interrupted by tragic events. He gangs up with a society girl, who becomes the symbol of the mutilation theme, and they stop at nothing to bring every bad person down around them. They don’t even stop at death.

 

Gloria Grahame plays the society girl, and her performance is what made this film great. Do not be turned off by her questionable accent (I guess it is supposed to be New Jersey but man it was weird), her presence in this film is magnificent. She saunters around each room with the confidence of a woman born to take advantage of the riches around her. Not even mutilation can take away from her sultry aura. Each man uses her to their advantage, but she can take it. She is strong enough. She takes her fate in her own hands and realizes the only way to take down the mob is to do the one thing that Det. Bannion cannot: Kill. No matter what happens , she is doomed. She might as well go out with a bang. (hah. literally.) Ms. Grahame plays her character with such a ease it is hard to not like her. She might very well become one of my favorite actresses.

Mr. Fritz Lang is most well-known for his early work, but do not discount his later more commercial (if you would call this commercial) work. He takes his avant-garde approach to lighting, structure, and dialogue and applies in such a marvelous way, that I wanted to watch the film again right after it was over. That is a rare attribute for a film. But after all it is a film noir. You know how much I like those…

 

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