Glenn Ford stars as Dave Bannion, a cop who ditches his badge in order to take down a mob boss when his wife (Jocelyn Brando) is blown up by a car bomb meant for him.
The action in The Big Heat is relentless and brutal – from thug Vince (Lee Marvin) throwing a pot of boiling coffee at moll Debby (Gloria Grahame) to Bannion exacting bloody revenge on the crooks who ruined his life.
In a crucial development, the embittered hero still can’t commit cold-blooded murder, and so a double has to step in to pull the last thread that allows justice to be done – the big heat that brings down crime boss Lagana (Alexander Scourby) is precipitated when Debby confronts and murders his “sister under the mink”, the crooked cop’s grasping widow.
The Big Heat is grounded more in political reality than most of Lang’s film noir’s, thanks to the hard-hitting detail of William P McGivern’s novel and Sydney Boehm’s script.
Lang’s direction is still indebted to expressionism here, with sets that reflect the characters’ overriding personality traits.
The cold luxury of the Duncan house, bought with dirty money; the tasteless wealth of Lagana’s mansion, with its hideous portrait of the mobster’s sainted mother and jiving teenage party; the modern penthouse of Vince and Debby (where the police commissioner plays cards with killers); the cramped, poor-but-honest apartment of the Bannion family; and the hotel room where Bannion ends up, his life pared down to the need for vengeance.
The finale is hardly comforting. After the fall of the crime syndicate, the hero returns to his desk in the Homicide Department.
The welcome of workmates – expressed, of course, by an offer of coffee – is curtailed, and the end title appears over Bannion putting on his hat and coat to go out and deal with “a hit and run over on South Street”.
Sgt Dave Bannion
Katherine ‘Katie’ Bannion
Lieutenant T. Wilks