The Big Heat (1953)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/9/14
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby, Gloria Grahame, cameo by Carolyn Jones

"Sitting here thinking is pretty rough when you've spent most of your life not thinking."

Police Sergeant Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) gets into a mess of trouble with the mob when he starts investigating the suicide of a fellow officer. But when someone pushes Bannion, Bannion pushes back, and the film rapidly evolves into a vicious and brutal tale of hatred, revenge, and vigilante justice. Circumstance has turned Bannion into a ruthless and violent man, and while he never actually kills anyone, his actions tend to leave a pile of bodies in his wake. The key to cracking the case turns out to be a scorned floozy named Debby Marsh (stunning Gloria Grahame), who has her own vendetta to play out against the mob, and Vince Stone (Lee Marvin) in particular.

Apart from the contrived happy ending, the film is bold and brutal, and driven solely by Bannion's relentless quest for revenge. Glenn Ford gives an excellent portrayal as a man pushed to extremes with nothing to lose, and he backs up his words with action. Alexander Scourby and Lee Marvin make great villains, and are as smart and cunning as they are dangerous. Sweet and sexy Gloria Grahame is both a femme fatale and a tragic heroine, and it's her reckless behavior that brings everything to a head. It's a good looking and well made film, and its themes of corruption, vice, and vengeance are just as relevant today as they were back in the 1950's.