Hef’s Movie Notes: The Big Heat

By Hugh Hefner

Tonight at the mansion: after the brutal murder of his wife, one cop takes on an entire crime syndicate.

Tonight: Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame with Lee Marvin in the Fritz Lang crime classic The Big Heat.

Fritz Lang was one of the more important, influential filmmakers of the 20th century.

Born in Vienna in 1890, he scored his first success with silent films like Dr. Mabuse and the classic Metropolis that were part of the German cinema of the 1920s that had a major impact on Hollywood movies of the period.  

He made the masterpiece M in Germany in 1933 and shortly thereafter both he and the film’s star, Peter Lorre, fled the country to England and then America, fearing reprisal from the Nazis because of their Semitic heritage.

Lang made a number of interesting films in America in the ’30s and ’40s, including Fury, You Only Live Once, Man Hunt, Ministry of Fear, The Woman in the Window, Cloak and Dagger and Rancho Notorious.

The Big Heat was based on a novel by William McGivern, serialized in the Saturday Evening Post.

It is the story of an incorruptible cop and his battle against the forces of evil in a corrupt city controlled by the mob.

It was inspired in part by the 1950 U.S. Senate Crime investigation conducted on TV by Senator Estes Kefauver, which revealed — for the first time — the extent of organized crime in America.

At a time when J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI were still publicly insisting that there was no mafia in America and that organized crime really didn’t exist in the U.S.

The screen rights were purchased by Columbia Pictures for $40,000 in 1952.

Producer Jerry Wald was originally assigned to the project.

And Paul Muni, George Raft and Edward G. Robinson were all mentioned as potential stars.

But in 1953, Jerry Wald had been replaced by Robert Arthur, whose previous producer credits included Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Francis, the tale of a talking mule.

And Harry Cohn thought Columbia contract player Glenn Ford should star.

Fritz Lang agreed Glenn Ford was younger and better suited to the role.

Under Lang’s direction, Ford turned in one of the best performances of his career.

Also in the cast: Gloria Grahame — whose credits include Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, In a Lonely Place, with Bogart, and The Bad and the Beautiful that won her an Oscar — is superb, as usual.

Stage actress Jocelyn Brando, who plays Ford’s wife, makes a powerful impression.

And is, I believe, Marlon Brando’s sister.

Lee Marvin is suitably despicable in this film — made a year before he appeared with Marlon in The Wild One.

The script, editing and cinematography are all first rate.

Cinematographer Charles Lang, who won an Oscar for A Farewell to Arms (1933), was noted for his black and white photography including Death Takes a Holiday, The Cat and the Canary, The Uninvited, Ace in the Hole and Billy Wilder’s Sabrina.

Born in Utah, he’s not related to the director Fritz Lang.

This is a tough, uncompromising crime drama, starkly photographed and without a continuous score — the absence of which underlines the hard-hitting dialogue and realism.

The Motion Picture Guide rates this as one of the best of the crime dramas of the ’50s — stating “This Fritz Lang film is as brutal as his M was frightening.”The AFI also put this on their list of the 400 top thrillers in the history of Hollywood.

So now — from 1953 —Fritz Lang’s



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