The Big Heat

1953 | Film Noir | In English | 90 minutes


Detective Sergeant Dave Bannion is sent to investigate the suicide of a fellow rogue officer, Tom Duncan. His wife, Bertha Duncan, tells Bannion  her husband was despondent about his deteriorating health. Bannion becomes suspicious when Duncan’s mistress, Lucy Chapman, says that Duncan was in good health and not despondent. Bannion is further agitated when his superior, Lieutenant Ted Wilks advises him to drop the case. Bannion becomes aware of the pressure Ted is facing when he finds that the politically-connected mob boss, Mike Lagana,  is involved. In quick order, Lucy Chapman is murdered and a car explosion meant to kill Bannion kills his wife. Bannion confronts Lagana’s second-in-command, Vince Stone in a bar. This impresses Stone’s troubled girlfriend Debby Marsh. Debby tries to befriend Bannion. However, Bannion is only interested if Debby can help him bring down Lagana, who Bannion is convinced murdered his wife. Bannion puts Debby at great risk and she does suffer severe consequences. But following the classic film noir formula, the film can only end one way. 

Glenn Ford (Detective Sgt. Dave Bannion) / Gloria Grahame ( Debby Marsh) / Lee Marvin (Vince Stone) / Alexander Scourby (Mike Lagana) / Jeanette Nolan (Bertha Duncan) / Dorothy Green (Lucy Chapman) / Willis Bouchey (Lt. Ted Wilks)
Why Stream This Film?
The Big Heat is listed in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, citing it as “one of the great post-war noir films, managing to be both stylized and brutally realistic, a signature of its director Fritz Lang.” 
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 100%
  • American Film Institute (AFI): Nominated, Top 10 Mystery Films; Nominated, Top 10 Gangster Films.

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The picture starts with a tight, believable screenplay by Sydney Boehm and goes from there through tense, forceful direction by Fritz Lang and top notch trouping by Glenn Ford.


THE BIG HEAT is a menacing idea, a miasma that swarms over this taut and violent 1953 thriller. It’s also the force of vengeance, the blowtorch flame of justice, coming from heaven and Earth alike. The film is drum-tight, directed with muscular clarity and force. 
Peter Bradshaw

The Guardian

Dice, vice, and corruption—especially corruption—are what you get a full share of in this crime melodrama, which has Glenn Ford as its taut, relentless star. Director Fritz Lang can direct a film. He has put his mind to it, in this instance, and he has brought forth a hot one with a sting.
Manohla Dargis

The New York Times

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