The Big Heat dips into all the bottomless noir pools. It’s a masterful, fast-paced, engrossing crime drama. As bodies begin falling all over town, a detective for a corrupt police department takes on a crime syndicate that has murdered his wife. The apparent suicide of the policeman Duncan sets the plot in motion; there’s no comic sidekicks or flashback tricks to derail the action.
Glenn Ford and Gloria Graham join forces to take down Alexander Scourby’s Lagana and Lee Marvin’s Stone. The police come around belatedly; but Bannion’s (Ford’s) army buddies provide the most timely help. Graham’s Debby becomes a surrogate wife for Dave Bannion; she endearingly keeps asking about her, in effect, wanting to be her.
That gives Bannion a short-lived redemption. She ends up a victim, along with about half of the cast. That she exacts revenge on Stone, and exposes the city’s corruption by killing Mrs. Duncan, makes Debby a tragic, if flawed figure. Bannion preserves his innocence throughout by refusing to kill. The climactic scene at Marvin’s apartment is well-played; there’s a lot of mayhem, but no superman invincibility.
Nothing’s out of place in The Big Heat. The alienated hero theme is set up by Bannion’s seemingly insurmountable travails. Both his wife and Debby are good people torn apart by the underworld. The criminals are more two-dimensional, but they span the field from the smug and smarmy Lagana to the out-and-out psychopathic Stone. There’s a lurid atmosphere almost everywhere: the scene at the junkyard is as haunting as the barroom scenes are edgy.
One of the best film noirs: especially due to Ford and Graham’s performances. Can’t beat The Big Heat. 10/10.