Sydney Boehm’s solid, hard-nosed script might have been made into a routine cops-and-robbers thriller, but the director, Fritz Lang, gave it a formalised style. The movie is all a piece; it’s designed in light and shadows, and its underworld atmosphere glistens with the possibilities of sadism — this is a definitive film noir, with stunningly choreographed nasty scenes.
Glenn Ford is Dave Bannion, a police lieutenant who ignores the orders of his superiors and investigates a big-time gangster (Alexander Scourby). A bomb is planted in Bannion’s car, and his wife (Jocelyn Brando) is blown up. Full of hate, Bannion leaves the department to find revenge. When one of the gangster’s henchmen (Lee Marvin) throws scalding coffee at his mistress, a high-living tough-girl lush (Gloria Grahame), and she wants vengeance, too, she joins up with Bannion. And the film accumulates corpses and attests. – Pauline Kael
From the opening shot, the close-up of the revolver… there is a morose intentness on violence. The killings and outrages… are not presented with great physical evidence or detail — several of them occur off-screen — but they determine — menacingly, the course of the action. —Gavin Lambert
Born in Vienna in 1890, Fritz Lang was brought up in Viennese middle-class comfort by his Roman Catholic father Anton and his Jewish mother Paula Schleisinger who both hoped that young Fritz would become an architect. But like so many middle-class children of the new century, Lang was fascinated by the pulp and fantasy literature of his day, the art world both in and outside Vienna and a potent new form of entertainment that invited artistic scrutiny and craftsmanship, the motion picture. Though the teenaged Lang attended school as his parents wished, he secretly haunted the cafe’s and cabarets of Vienna and intended to become a painter like his idols Klimt and Schile. At aged 21 Lang’s yearning took him to Paris where he lived in Bohemian splendor until the outbreak of W.W.I. Returning to Vienna, Lang enlisted in the Austrian army where he repeatedly saw combat, was wounded at least three times and decorated twice.
It was while on leave recuperating from one of these wounds… read more
Great film noir, evil loses at great costs. One could say it was all Glenn Ford's fault in a way.
My first Lang is arguably the greatest meditation on the destructive consequences of revenge that I've come across. Gloria Grahame is fantastic and Lee Marvin is shockingly evil, especially given when this was made. One of the best and darkest noirs I've ever seen.
Also: Best of 2011 from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, In Review Online and more. And 11-year-old Scorsese’s storyboards.
Also: Sight & Sound’s Gilbert Adair archive, new restorations from the National Film Preservation Foundation and more.
From Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953); featuring Gloria Grahame; cinematography by Charles Lang.
One of the downsides of going to the Rotterdam Film Festival (more on which next week) was having to miss a whole week of Film Forum’s essential