A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953)

Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford in The Big Heat
Dave Bannion: Glenn Ford
Debby Marsh: Gloria Grahame
Kate Bannion: Jocelyn Brando
Mike Lagana: Alexander Scourby
Vince Stone: Lee Marvin
Bertha Duncan: Jeanette Nolan
Larry Gordon: Adam Williams
Tierney: Peter Whitney
Lt. Ted Wilks: Willis Bouchey
Commissioner Higgins: Howard Wendell
George Rose: Chris Alcaide
Lucy Chapman: Dorothy Green
Atkins: Dan Seymour
Selma Parker: Edith Evanson

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Sydney Boehm
Based on a novel by William P. McGivern
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Art direction: Robert Peterson
Film editing: Charles Nelson
Music: Henry Vars

So many of the roles in Glenn Ford's career established him as a figure of middle-American blandness that it comes as a surprise to see the cold-eyed intensity of which he was capable in the role of the vengeful Dave Bannion in The Big Heat. He's still the good guy, fighting crime bosses and corrupt cops, but with the film noir twist that he's willing to resort to some pretty bad means to achieve his ends. He's also a solid foil for Gloria Grahame at her sultriest and a tough foe for Lee Marvin at his thuggiest. We get a glimpse of the more familiar Ford in the scenes with Bannion and his wife and daughter that verge a bit on stickiness, though the more to emphasize Bannion's quest for vengeance after his wife is killed and his daughter threatened by Alexander Scourby's suave mobster, Mike Lagana. (Is it just my prurient imagination, or does the scene in which Lagana is wakened for a phone call by George, his bodyguard, wearing a bathrobe, suggest that George may be doing more to Lagana's body than just guarding it?) The Big Heat is a classic, one of the highlights of Fritz Lang's American career, and it still has the power not only to startle and shock but also to amuse, thanks to a solid screenplay -- Grahame in particular is given some delicious lines to speak, including Debby's classic riposte to Bertha Duncan, "We're sisters under the mink."

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