Fritz Lang’s American films tended to be gritty crime thrillers (film noirs) for most of the late 1940’s and 1950’s. While there was a lot of good ones, my favourite is his 1953 The Big Heat.
Glenn Ford is a homicide detective assigned to a case involving the death of a fellow police officer. It looks like suicide, open and shut case. But Ford gets a call from the late cop’s mistress who tells him that the cop and his wife somehow manage to have a second home. It looks like the cop was involved with the local crime boss Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby). It seems like everybody is in Lagana’s pocket including most of the police force. The mistress ends up dead and she was tortured first, cigarette burns covered her body. Ford is told to back down by his superiors but he keeps on investigating.
Ford’s insistence to keep on the case results in his wife getting killed in a car explosion. Ford resigns from the police force and then things get ugly. Lagana’s right hand man is vicious thug named Vince Stone (Lee Marvin). Ford sees Stone burn a girl in a club with a cigarette to punish her. Ford gets into a fight with Stone and Stone’s girlfriend Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame) is impressed with Ford. She tries to hit on Ford but Ford turns her down when she reminds him of his late wife. Stone finds out about Debby and Ford and punishes her which lands Debby disfigured and in the hospital. Debby decides to help Ford take down Lagana and Stone.
This is an excellent, brutal crime thriller. Bad things happen to good people and good guys have to fight to keep their humanity. Lang keeps things moving briskly and his shadowy cinematography helps build tension. Lee Marvin is excellent as the brutal vicious hired thug and Ford is excellent playing the uncorruptible determined good cop who is in over his head. His actions have terrible results for the people around him but he won’t quit until the bad guys are brought to justice. A great film noir.