Sunday, July 8, 2012

Blu-ray Review: THE BIG HEAT (1953)

THE BIG HEAT (1953) 

Label: Twilight Time
Region: Region FREE
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 90 mins
Video: 1080p Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with English SDH Subtitles 

Director: Fritz Lang 
Cast: Glenn FordGloria GrahameJocelyn BrandoAlexander ScourbyJeanette NolanLee Marvin 
Tagline: "Somebody's Going to Pay...Because He Forgot to Kill Me..."

Synopsis: A dark masterpiece of film noir, pantheon director Fritz Lang’s excoriating The Big Heat (1953) takes an unflinching look at the endemic corruption of small-town America, pitting a tough cop against the forces of evil represented by a syndicate boss  and his all-too-obedient flunkies within the police force. Gloria Grahame co-stars, indelibly, as a gangster’s moll with a decent heart, exploited by both good guys and bad; and Lee Marvin makes a terrifying early appearance as a thug whose sharp clothes and fancy apartment do little to conceal his animalistic nature.

The Film: I've had the pleasure of viewing two of Fritz Lang's films the dark masterpiece of German expressionism Metropolis (1927) and the disturbing M (1931) which deals with a villages struggle to capture a child-killer, it's grim stuff with an amazing Peter Lorre performance. Otherwise I am largely naive about Lang's other works. Once again niche label Twilight Time DVD have opened my eyes to a classic bit of cinema that heretofore had escaped mine eyes, this time it's Fritz Lang's noir masterpiece The Big Heat (1953). 

When corrupt Kenport cop Tom Duncan blows his brains out at his home it's Sgt. Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford, Superman: The Movie) whom is called into investigate what appears to be a open and shut case of suicide. The seemingly grieving widow Bertha (Jeanette Nolan)  explains that his poor health may have lead to the tragedy but his mistress Lucy (Dorothy Green) casts doubt on that scenario - planting a seed of foul-play in the mind of the Sgt. There might be something to her suspicions too because the very next day Lucy's corpse is thrown from a car covered in cigarette burns and strangled. Lt. Wilks (Willis Bouchely) tells Bannion to drop the case which is out of his jurisdiction and to ease off  the widow too - the case is closed as far as he's concerned. This doesn't sit well with the justice-minded Sgt. and it soon becomes apparent that both Lt. Wilks and the Police Commissioner (Howard Wendell) are clearly having their strings pulled like puppets by wiseguy Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby, The Stuff). Undeterred the Sgt. shows up at Lagan's home stirring up a hornet's nest of trouble which results in Lagana ordering a hit on Bannion. The hit claims the life of Bannion's beloved wife Katie (Joclyn Brando, Dark Night of the Scarecrow). The tragic loss of his wife further pushes the obsessed Sgt. to the breaking point, after resigning from the force the enraged, armed and grieving Bannion will stop at nothing to bring those responsible for his wife's death to justice - badge or no badge.  

Lee Marvin (The Big Red One) appears as Lagana's henchman Vince Stone, a sadistic brute of a man whom alongside conspirator Larry Gordon (Adam Williams, North by Northwest) carried-out the car-bombing that claimed Katie. Bannion makes the connection when Stone's sassy-mouthed boozer girlfriend Debbie (the fantastic Gloria Graham, Blood and Lace) betrays him after he throws a scalding hot pot of coffee into her face, disfiguring the mouthy dame.  She's a fiery, sharp-tongued presence who's smart-mouth makes for an amazing performance.

Glenn Ford is a true force of vengeance as a man driven by a sense of justice but who is quite willing to skirt the law as necessary. He's definitely an anti-hero who's colored in shades of grey - the man leaves a trail of dead women as collateral damage in his wake. Lee Marvin as the menacing Vince is quite an imposing figure who dishes out grotesque violence throughout the film - a truly despicable man.  While it must be said that the violence is implied rather than depicted it is nonetheless brutal and affecting - there's torture, mutilation and disfigurement - not pleasant stuff at all - this film has a definite sting to it. 

Blu-ray: Twilight Time's Blu-ray presents the film in gorgeous 1080p black and white in it's original 4:3 aspect ratio. Sourced from a pristine print it looks fantastic with great contrast. It's a sharp image with an appropriate amount of film grain and fine detail. The film lacks the classic deeply shadowed noir aesthetic but its a great looking image nonetheless. The English DTS-HD MA mono audio renders dialogue and score accurately. Overall another great presentation from Twilight Time. 

Special features include the signature isolated music score, a re-release trailer of the film and my favorite part of any Twilight Time presentation - Julie Kirgo's liner notes which never fail to enrich the viewing experience.

Special Features: 
- Isolated Score Track 
- Re-release Theatrical Trailer (1:43) 4:3
 -  8 pg. Booklet Featuring Extensive Julie Kirgo Liner Notes and Film Art

Verdict:  Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953) is a brutal and stinging noir thriller that holds up quite nicely and while it may not be shocker it surely once was it's still a mighty potent cocktail of sadism and corruption. As with all of Twilight Time's Blu-rays the release is a limited edition run of 3,000 - so get it while you can exclusively from 4 outta 5