Wednesday, November 29, 2023

THE BIG HEAT (Fritz Lang, 1953, USA)

Detective Dave Bannion must face the heat as his world explodes around him, his life crumbling like a house of toy blocks, as he insulates himself from corruption and dishonesty. After investigating a policeman’s suicide, Dave Bannion stumbles into the furnace of greed and political intrigue, where his true self is forged upon the alter of self-sacrifice and integrity, words that echo hollowly through the Halls of Injustice: our protagonist demands restitution but is not willing to poison himself and become the very thing he despises. 

Director Fritz Lang’s prescient social commentary is analogous to the world today, where honesty and hard work are anathema to the syndicates who hold dominion over the minds of weak wo/men. Lang’s cinematography utilizes few cuts, and he films the action in medium shot, the objective focal point moving with the characters which creates a narrative frisson, allowing us to become accomplice to the drama. The story is classic film noir with the tough talking detective and slimy underworld kingpin and his henchman, the slinky femme fatale, the smoky beer joints and fistfights: but Lang takes the story to a new level of brutality and human suffering. 

Glen Ford imbues Bannion with a realistic duality, a conscious struggle between the horrors of work and being a loving husband, and Lang takes us inside his personal life to witness a Homicide Detective at home where he becomes just another citizen. This insight heightens the tragedy, and we expect Bannion to abandon his morality and seek revenge, cutting down everyone who stands in the way. He begins to see everyone as an enemy and goes on a “hate binge” against the world, until the sultry Debbie Marsh teaches him that survival and cruelty need not go hand in hand…because she is also a victim. 

Lang preempts the noir conventions with characters that act independently and change, people who aren’t stuck in the stereotype of ignominy. The look of Bannion as he tearfully ponders a life that once was, his face a vacuum of despair and loneliness, is exhilarating and impassioned. But he never yields to the stigma of opprobrium and sticks to his guns (so to speak) to see that the Rule of Law is upheld…even if it stinks of contempt. His last words bring peace to a poor dying girl, a reflective moment that also delivers Bannion towards absolution. 

Final Grade: (A)