The Big Heat

21/03/2019 19:45.
Cert 15

Following last week’s film, Gloria Grahame stars in this classic film noir. It’s a cops and gangsters story where both sides use women to their own advantage. Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) investigates a corrupt cop’s suicide and discovers that statements from the dead man’s wife and his mistress are at odds. He cynically uses this information knowing that the mobsters will retaliate – which leads to the death of the mistress. Subsequently Bannion’s wife is also murdered. Grahame plays a gangster’s moll used by Bannion to gain information to help him bring down the gang, with tragic results.

“[…] lines such as ‘I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better’ reveal the vulnerability that always made Grahame’s bad girls so human.” (David Parkinson,

Dir: Fritz Lang  90mins   USA   1953

Programme Notes

Following last week’s film charting Hollywood legend Gloria Grahame’s final, sad years, tonight’s critically acclaimed (but morally ambiguous) film noir by Fritz Lang showcases Grahame in her prime, with an inspired, subtle yet energetic performance as a gangster’s moll.

Displaying a screen presence that is fresh, modern and a little ditzy, she’s pretty but not beautiful, sassy in a tired and knowing way and with a facial immobility that at times gives her character the pretence of being well-behaved, she is one of the best reasons for seeing the film. Seemingly always a little unstrung, as if she knows she’s in danger all the time (and is trying to kid herself that she isn’t), her character wittily observes at one point to chief protagonist Dave Bannion “You’re about as romantic as a pair of handcuffs. Don’t you ever tell a girl pretty things?” Grahame’s effortless ability to switch between coquettish innocence, worldly bitterness and smouldering sensuality helped create her as a screen legend in the golden age of noir in the 1950s.

Dave Bannion is a good, courageous cop, working on the case of a bent colleague who has committed suicide apparently because of his disillusion at being corrupted onto the payroll of the local crime syndicate. Bannion has an implacable hatred for the syndicate and a particular loathing for its leader, Mike Lagana. Set in the fictional town of Kenport, in thrall to the syndicate’s organised crime (the police commissioner is in the pay of its bosses), Bannion is determined to destroy the syndicate.

His single-minded drive leads him into a tangled web of criminal and sexual intrigue and although he succeeds in the end, his fixation on a single purpose leads to disastrous consequences for several people close to him – including his wife Katie (notably played by Jocelyn Brando, elder sister of Marlon). Acknowledgements: Roger Ebert,; Lindsay Anderson, Sight&Sound

“The film is as deceptive and two-faced as anything Lang ever made, with its sunny domestic tranquility precariously separated from a world of violence” Roger Ebert,

Glenn Ford – Dave Bannion
Gloria Grahame – Debby Marsh
Jocelyn Brando – Katie Bannion
Alexander Scourby – Mike Lagana
Lee Marvin – Vince Stone

Director – Fritz Lang
Producer – Robert Arthur
Screenplay – Sydney Boehm
Cinematography – Charles Lang
Original Music – Henry Vars (uncredited)


  • Nail biting stuff!
  • Enough to give an old lady the night terrors!
  • Authentic, original noir!
  • Excellent – very atmospheric. Some dialogue missed
  • They don’t make ’em like that anymore!
  • The opening scenes may have a bit talky and stagey and the action somewhat amusing by today’s standards but the film’s great strengths came from its smart script, no-nonsense cinematography and strong cast
  • Smart, snappy and tough. Not so sure about the music, though ….
  • Characters better developed than most (films of this ilk). Couldn’t you have turned down the soaring strings when the characters were talking?
  • Seemed a bit dated and formulaic but well acted, especially by Gloria Grahame. The music was too insistent
  • Action-packed scenes with two dimensional characters, plus a happy ending
  • They sure said ‘sure’ a lot!


A:10, B:9, C:0, D:0, E:0 to give 88% from 76% of those present.