The Film Noir File: Crawford at her finest, one of Lang’s best

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Mildred Pierce posterMildred Pierce (1945, Michael Curtiz). Tuesday, Nov. 19; 10 p.m. (7 p.m.). With Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott and Ann Blyth.

Sunday, Nov. 17

10:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m.): “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang). With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Johnny Eager” (1941, Mervyn LeRoy). With Robert Taylor, Lana Turner and Van Heflin. Reviewed in FNB on August 4, 2012.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Johnny Apollo” (1940, Henry Hathaway). Tyrone Power and Edward Arnold undergo father-and-son traumas and reversals as two wealthy Wall Street family members gone bad. Directed with Hathaway’s usual tough expertise. Co-starring Dorothy Lamour, Lloyd Nolan and Charley Grapewin.

Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame create one of the most iconic scenes in all of film noir.

In “The Big Heat” from 1953, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame create one of the most iconic scenes in all of film noir. It plays Sunday morning.

Tuesday, Nov. 19

4:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.): “Man in the Attic” (1953, Hugo Fregonese). With Jack Palance and Constance Smith. Reviewed in FNB on March 5, 2013.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.). See “Pick of the Week.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.). “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook, Jr. Reviewed in FNB on November 10, 2012.

Thursday, Nov. 21

3:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.): “Jeopardy” (1943, John Sturges). With Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan and Ralph Meeker. Reviewed in FNB on July 21, 2012.

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The Noir File: ‘The Big Heat’ tells a searing story

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford star in “The Big Heat.”

The Big Heat” (1953: Fritz Lang). Tuesday, July 9: 9:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m.).

“When a barfly gets killed, it could be for any one of a dozen crummy reasons,” says Police Lt. Ted Wilks (Willis Bouchey) in “The Big Heat.” Fritz Lang’s grim but gratifying crime drama from 1953 is laced with violence that’s still a bit shocking even by today’s standards.

Lee Marvin plays Gloria Grahame’s gangster boyfriend.

Easy on the eyes Glenn Ford, the incomparable Gloria Grahame and ever-glowering Lee Marvin star in this unforgettable noir.

You can read the full FNB review here.

Friday, July 5

2:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m.): “Hangmen Also Die!” (1943, Fritz Lang). With Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan and Anna Lee. Reviewed on FNB Feb. 27, 2012.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Four Hundred Blows” (1959, François Truffaut). Noir-lover Truffaut’s astonishing Cannes prize-winning feature film debut: the semi-autobiographical tale of the write-director’s boyhood life of parental neglect, explorations of Paris, street play, movie-going and petty crime, with Jean-Pierre Léaud as the young Truffaut character, Antoine Doinel. Truffaut and Doinel made four more Doinel films, and they might be making them still, but for the great French filmmaker’s untimely death in 1984. (In French, with English subtitles.)

The beginning of a month-long Friday night Truffaut retrospective, hosted by New York Magazine movie critic David Edelstein.

Saturday, July 6

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Key Largo” (1958, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor. Reviewed on FNB August 10, 2012.

Sunday, July 7

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955, Nicholas Ray). With James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. Reviewed on FNB April 18, 2013.

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “The Fugitive” (1947, John Ford). With Henry Fonda, Dolores Del Rio and Ward Bond. Reviewed on FNB July 28, 2012. [Read more...]

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Lee Marvin on the big screen at American Cinematheque

Lee Marvin

One of the screen’s top tough guys, Lee Marvin (1924-1987) is being honored with a film program at the American Cinematheque. The series starts Friday, Feb. 8, and runs until Feb. 21; movies will be shown at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

The tribute to Marvin will include “Point Blank,” “The Killers,” “Cat Ballou,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” a rare print of “Hell in the Pacific” and “The Professionals.”

The New York native and former Marine (a Purple Heart recipient) was working as a plumber’s assistant when he stumbled into acting. Marvin was a natural for roles in war movies and later expanded his range to tackle more complex, nuanced parts. One of our faves: the menacing, misogynistic Vince Stone, who scalds his girlfriend Debby (Gloria Grahame) with hot coffee in 1953’s “The Big Heat.”

Jim Jarmusch

Director Jim Jarmusch once told me at a film festival (with a not completely straight face) that he had founded a group called the Sons of Lee Marvin for tall dudes with deep voices. Maybe Jarmusch will show up at a screening, provided he can find a seat with extra leg room.

Special guests to honor Marvin include “Cat Ballou” director Elliot Silverstein, author Dwayne Epstein, actor Clu Gulager and Lee Marvin’s son, Christopher Marvin. Epstein will sign copies of his book “Lee Marvin: Point Blank” at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 8 in the Aero Theatre lobby before the “Point Blank” screening.  I am eagerly awaiting my review copy of Epstein’s book and am told I will receive a copy to give away to a reader. Stay tuned.

See the American Cinematheque website for the complete Lee Marvin lineup. Additionally, there are French crime films and thrillers featured in the AC tribute to composer Michel Legrand, which runs Feb. 8-26.

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The Noir File: Lee Marvin is a thief betrayed in ‘Point Blank’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Angie Dickinson and Lee Marvin star in “Point Blank.”

Point Blank” (1967, John Boorman). Thursday, Jan. 31, 2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.) “Point Blank,” with Lee Marvin as a thief betrayed and left for dead in Alcatraz, is, like “Chinatown,” one of the quintessential neo-noirs. Directed with sizzle and panache by John Boorman (“Deliverance”), the movie’s source is one of the super-tough Parker novels by Donald Westlake, with the main character’s name changed to “Walker.” (It’s changed back in the current, and disappointing, movie adaptation, “Parker,” starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez, directed by Taylor Hackford.)

When the unstoppable Walker, his face deadly and determined, takes off after his treacherous old associates (including John Vernon, Carroll O’Connor and Lloyd Bochner) with the help of a mysterious guide (Keenan Wynn), and a glamorous pal (Angie Dickinson), it’s a magnetic, terrifying sight.

“Point Blank” steeps you in its L. A. locale: a surprisingly beautiful sunlit vision circa 1967. With Boorman going all out, this classic movie plays like a grand collaboration among Don Siegel, Alain Resnais and Jean-Pierre Melville. As for Lee Marvin, he’s at the top of his game. So is Angie.

Tuesday, Jan. 29

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955, Otto Preminger). With Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak.

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (1955, Otto Preminger). With James Stewart and Lee Remick.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Armored Car Robbery” (1950, Richard Fleischer). Fast, punchy heist thriller; with Charles McGraw as the tough cop on the trail of half a million. Also with William Talman (the brains) and Adele Jergens (the broad).

Wednesday, Jan. 30

Orson Welles

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “The Stranger” (1946, Orson Welles). Orson Welles is a post-war Nazi fugitive hiding in a small town, affianced to the lovely but gullible Loretta Young. Edward G. Robinson is the government man on his trail. That cast and this movie’s virtuosic staging and camerawork (by Russell Metty), would make it a gem for almost any other director. For Welles, it’s average, but gripping.

Saturday, Feb. 2

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Blurbed August 10, 2012.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz). With Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.) “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz). With Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston.

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The Noir File: Non-stop tension from pulp-fiction king Woolrich

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

This is a guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the movies are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

The Window” (1949, Ted Tetzlaff). Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, 1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.)

On a sweltering New York City night, a 9-year-old named Tommy (Bobby Driscoll) witnesses a murder committed by neighbors (Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman).

Unfortunately Tommy is known for crying wolf and his parents (Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy) don’t believe him. As he keeps trying to tell his story, the killers become more and more aware of the threat he poses and more determined to shut him up.

Of all the great noir writers – Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Goodis, Thompson – no one could generate sheer screaming suspense like pulp-fiction king Cornell Woolrich. And this picture, along with Hitchcock’s 1954 “Rear Window,” are the most tension-packed, unnerving movies made from Woolrich’s stories.

Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968)

“The Window,” shot largely on location, has grittily evocative street scenery and the cast is letter-perfect. (Driscoll won a special Juvenile Oscar for his performance.) The director was Ted Tetzlaff, an ace cinematographer who shot Hitchcock’s “Notorious,” and he does a wonderful job here.

This movie seethes with atmosphere and character, crackles with fear and dread. There are some classic film noirs that are underrated, and – perhaps because the protagonist here is, atypically, a child – this is one of them.

Saturday, Sept. 15

10 p.m. (7 p.m.) “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock)

12 a.m. (9 p.m.) “Dial M for Murder” (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

2 a.m. (11 p.m.) “Niagara” (1953, Henry Hathaway)

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946, Tay Garnett). See Noir File, 6/29/12

Sunday, Sept. 16

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.): “Point Blank” (1967, John Boorman). “Point Blank” is one of the quintessential neo noirs. Lee Marvin is a thief betrayed and left for dead in Alcatraz. When he takes off after his treacherous associates and their bosses (Carroll O’Connor and Lloyd Bochner), with the help of a mysterious guide (Keenan Wynn) and a glamorous pal (Angie Dickinson), it’s a magnetic, terrifying sight.

Based on a novel by “Richard Stark” (aka Donald Westlake), the movie is steeped in its Los Angeles locale: a deadly city of noir that’s also a surprisingly beautiful sunlit-vision of LA circa 1967. With Boorman going all out, this classic movie plays like a grand collaboration among Don Siegel, Alain Resnais, Phil Karlson and Jean-Pierre Melville. As for Lee Marvin, he’s at the top of his game. So is Angie.

Wednesday, Sept. 19

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “The Breaking Point” (1950, Michael Curtiz). Based on Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not,” and starring John Garfield in the Bogie part, this is a more faithful adaptation than the 1944 Howard Hawks picture, but not quite as good a movie. (Then again, some buffs prefer it.) Curtiz gives it speed, atmosphere and a dark overview. The rest of the cast includes Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter and, in the Walter Brennan part, the matchless Juano Hernandez.

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The Noir File: Stewart gets the story in true-crime gem

By Michael Wilmington

A guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the movies listed below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

James Stewart plays a journalist on hunt for the truth in "Call Northside 777."

Call Northside 777” (1948, Henry Hathaway) Sunday, Sept. 9, 10 a.m. (7 a.m.)

The first major studio movie to be shot on location in Chicago, “Call Northside 777” is one of the best true-crime noirs of the ’40s, packed with postwar punch and atmosphere, made by the master of the form, Henry Hathaway (“Kiss of Death”). It’s based on the story of a persistent Chicago Times reporter (James Stewart) – initially skeptical, but finally convinced – who digs into an 11-year-old murder case to find out if a man (Richard Conte) convicted of murdering a policeman is really guilty of the crime, or is the victim of overzealous prosecutors and dishonest politicians.

Stewart is excellent in his role as fictitious journalist P. J. McNeal: a character reminiscent of Stewart’s great part as wily lawyer Paul Biegler in “Anatomy of a Murder.” He’s backed by Lee J. Cobb (as the Times’ editor), Helen Walker and, in his first movie role, John McIntire. Movie buffs sometimes argue about whether “Call Northside 777” should be considered a noir, since the main characters, including Conte’s crusading mother, are good people. But why try to put noir in a straitjacket? There are bad guys here too: namely, the prosecutors and the politicians who put the real-life Joseph Majczek in jail and tried to keep him there.

Friday, Sept. 7

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.): “Boomerang!” (1947, Elia Kazan). See 8-29-12 Noir File

Sunday. Sept. 9

Spencer Tracy stars in “Bad Day at Black Rock.”

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955, John Sturges). In a barren-looking desert town, a lawman and WW2 vet with only one arm (Spencer Tracy) tries to investigate an act of violence that may be a racially motivated murder. The town tries to stop him.

A great melodrama with a memorable Tracy performance; he is harassed by three of the American cinema’s great villains: Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine (in the same year Borgnine won an Oscar as the gentle Marty). The rest of the superb cast includes Walter Brennan, Dean Jagger and Anne Francis.

Monday, Sept. 10

6:45 p.m. (3:45 p.m.): “Criminal Court” (1946, Robert Wise). A shrewd lawyer (Tom Conway) defends a woman (Martha O’Driscoll) for the murder he himself committed. One of the neat little RKO B-movies made by one of Jean-Pierre Melville’s favorite directors: Robert Wise.

Wednesday, Sept. 12

Lauren Bacall

8 p.m. & 3:15 a.m. (5 p.m. & 12:15 a.m.). Private Screenings: Lauren Bacall (2005). Two chances to watch Bacall interviewed by Robert Osborne.

9 p.m. (6 p.m.): “Confidential Agent” (1945, Herman Shumlin). From a novel by Graham Greene (“The Third Man”): an anti-Fascist thriller set during the Spanish Civil War. With Charles Boyer, Lauren Bacall, Peter Lorre and Katina Paxinou.

4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “Passage to Marseille” (1944, Michael Curtiz). This post-Casablanca re-teaming of Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and director Curtiz, has Bogie as a French patriot, Michele Morgan (“Port of Shadows”) as his love, and a complex flashbacks-within-flashbacks story structure that carries him to Devil’s Island and back.

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Free stuff from FNB: Win ‘The Killers’ two-disc set

Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner

Screening at AFI FEST 2011 is one of the all-time great film-noir works: “The Killers.” Based on an Ernest Hemingway short story and directed by Robert Siodmak, the movie instantly established stardom for Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. “The Killers” will screen at 4 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

The winner of November’s reader giveaway will receive a copy of Criterion’s DVD edition of “The Killers,” which includes the Siodmak version and Don Siegel’s 1964 made-for-TV feature, starring Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Angie DickinsonRonald Reagan and Clu Gulager. You can read more about the special features here.

(The winner of the October reader giveaway is Ruslan, congrats to the winner and thanks to all who entered!)

To enter the November giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Nov. 1-30. The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early December. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!

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Wendell Corey astonishes as a doofus turned dangerous

The Killer is Loose/1956/Crown Productions, UA/73 min.

Michael Wilmington

By Michael Wilmington

Budd Boetticher, who didn’t direct nearly as many films as he should have, made a lot of them in the ’50s. And in 1956, he directed both a classic Western (“Seven Men from Now”) and a neglected semi-classic low-budget noir, “The Killer is Loose.”

Joseph Cotten plays a dedicated if disgruntled LA cop, Rhonda Fleming is his unwisely feisty wife, Alan Hale and John Larch are fellow fuzz, and, very memorably, Wendell Corey is the escaped bank robber who blames Cotten (correctly) for the death of his wife during his arrest.

Corey was a dependable, if often unexciting, sidekick and secondary guy in the ’40s and ’50s. In 1947’s “Desert Fury,” he plays John Hodiak’s right-hand crook, another great noir role. Corey gives an astonishing performance here as the psychotic vengeance-seeker – playing the character not as the usual cold-blooded, relentless Lee Marvin or Jack Palance type, but as someone you’d probably trust.

Wendell Corey plays the psycho as a polite, trustworthy type.

He’s a polite, preoccupied, considerate, somewhat clumsy, nice-enough-acting doofus, not at all maniacal or dangerous-appearing. He’s also seemingly unstoppable, as he breaks out of jail and moves inexorably toward Cotten and Fleming and their home in the suburbs, killing everyone in his way.

Corey’s loose killer and his last disguise, which in some ways anticipates Norman Bates’ mother in “Psycho,” are both absurd and scary.

The movie, like a lot of Boetticher, is immaculately well executed, the work of an extraordinary genre-bending talent. By the way, Lee Marvin had one of his all-time best heavy roles in Boetticher’s above-mentioned gem “Seven Men from Now.” In that movie, it was hero Randolph Scott who was the relentless pursuer, out to avenge his wife.

The cinematographer of “The Killer is Loose” was Lucien Ballard, Boetticher’s good friend and great collaborator. Ballard, an ace at both Westerns and noirs, shot this movie the same year he lit Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing.”

MGM Limited Edition Collection, available from online retailers. No extras.

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In ‘Human Desire,’ Gloria Grahame as a devious temptress gives us raw sexuality, a glimpse of tragedy

Human Desire/1954/Columbia/Sony/91 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame was a film noir doll and movie moll of the first rank – and in Fritz Lang’s 1954 “Human Desire,” she gave one of her most fetchingly sultry, and powerful, performances. As a tricky, trapped, unfaithful but resourceful railroad wife named Vicki, she seduces the camera, the audience and her co-stars (one in real life), in one of the two noir classics she made with Glenn Ford for noir master and reputed on-set tyrant, Fritz Lang.

1952’s “The Big Heat,” that great scalding saga of gangsterism and revenge, is the more famous Lang-Ford-Grahame collaboration, and rightly so. But “Human Desire” is a moody little classic as well, one of Lang’s last American films, and among the most complex and chilling roles ever for Grahame and Ford – who spiced up the movie this time with an offstage affair.

“Human Desire” is one of two Lang American remakes of French film classics directed by Lang‘s great colleague Jean Renoir, a generous-hearted, humanistic Frenchman who seems at first, the temperamental opposite of the icy-eyed Lang. But Lang’s 1945 noir masterpiece “Scarlet Street” was derived from Renoir’s 1931 “La Chienne,” and “Human Desire” is a remake (and a softening) of Renoir’s great dark, violent crime drama/romance “La Bête Humaine” (1938), a noir precursor adapted from the classic 19th century novel by Émile Zola.

Jean Gabin and Simone Simon in “La Bête Humaine”

“La Bete Humaine” and “Human Desire” are both set mostly in grim gray railroad yards, the shadowy surrounding cities and on the trains – and both Renoir and Lang get great mileage out of the hypnotic scenes they both shot of speeding trains, landscapes rushing past and train tracks merging and diverging inexorably below, echoing the characters’ headlong plunge into madness.

Ford, like “La Bete Humaine’s” Jean Gabin, plays an all-too-human train engineer: in Ford’s case, returning Korean War vet Jeff Warren, a good guy tormented by illicit, adulterous desire. (Gabin’s fireman and train sidekick was the ebullient Julien Carette, the imp of “Grand Illusion” and “The Rules of the Game.” Ford’s is crusty old westerner Edgar Buchanan.)

The desire of course, is for Grahame’s provocative, minx-eyed blonde Vicki, the persecuted wife of brutal, alcoholic, insanely jealous yard boss Carl Buckley, played by Broderick Crawford five years after his “All the King’s Men” best actor Oscar. (Another great French actor, Fernand Ledoux, played the equivalent part for Renoir.) And, as Vicki, Grahame touches many noir bases: tempting cutie-pie, disturbed and abused wife, haunted adulteress, lady in distress, and classic scheming femme fatale (a note she didn’t strike in “The Big Heat,” when she played coffee-scorched Debby, Lee Marvin’s tragic moll.)

Ford was a great brooder, as was “Bete Humaine’s” Gabin. And, when Jeff broods over Vicki, as she pulls him into her sexual web, the whole screen heats up and then darkens and goes cold. The original “Bete Humaine” adulteress was the legendary French sex kitten Simone Simon (in a role that made her an international star and eventually brought her to America for “Cat People”).

Grahame is scarier and deeper and more human (and desirable) than Simon – mostly because, in the beginning, we like Vicki. We sympathize with her, feel sorry for her because of her violent mistreatment by the obviously pathological Carl, whose jealousy drives him to murder and drink, and puts him on a collision course with Ford’s glowering, love-drunk Jeff. [Read more...]

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One of Fritz Lang’s finest films, ‘The Big Heat’ is a lean, gripping suspense story

Fritz Lang

The Big Heat/1953/Columbia Pictures/89 min.

“When a barfly gets killed, it could be for any one of a dozen crummy reasons,” says Police Lt. Ted Wilks (Willis Bouchey) in “The Big Heat.” Fritz Lang’s grim but gratifying crime drama from 1953 is laced with violence that’s still a bit shocking even by today’s standards.

Barflys don’t get much sympathy in the fictional city of Kenport, an upstanding community full of white-picket fences and happy homemakers that also harbors a flourishing criminal empire and rampant police corruption.

Wilks is talking to an upright cop, Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion (easy on the eyes Glenn Ford), about the torture and murder of Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green). Lucy was the girlfriend of police sergeant Tom Duncan, also dead; his suicide is the film’s opening scene.

Tom’s widow Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) is not what you’d call crushed at her husband’s demise and she’s martini-dry as she answers questions from Bannion. Bertha claims her husband was ill, hence the suicide. Bannion got a rather different story from Lucy Chapman.

Unlike Tom Duncan, Bannion seems to have a perfect wife, the golden-haired Katie (Jocelyn Brando, Marlon’s sister), and a cute little daughter, named Joyce. As Mr. and Mrs. Bannion share smokes, sips of drinks and steaks, they banter easily and make each other laugh.

In addition to questioning barflies and ungrieving widows, Bannion noses into the business of an oily mobster named Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby), a vicious operator whose right-hand man is the lithe and snarling Vince Stone (Lee Marvin).

Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford in "The Big Heat."

The incomparable Gloria Grahame plays Debby Marsh, Stone’s inamorata. Debby spends most of her time shopping, drinking and looking at herself in the mirror. What’s not to like? As she tells Bannion: “I’ve had it rich and I’ve had it poor. Believe me, rich is better.”

(In, 1954, Ford and Grahame starred in another Lang noir, “Human Desire,” a film version of Émile Zola’s novel “La Bête Humaine”/“The Human Beast.”)

Shortly after the exchange in Lagana’s living room, a car bomb meant for Bannion kills the lovely Katie. Bannion doesn’t take much time to mourn; instead, with eyes glazed, he’s hellbent on proving the link between the police and Lagana’s mob. Suspended from the force, he seeks vengeance on his own, setting the pace for ’70s vigilante cops such as Clint Eastwood‘s Dirty Harry. As Bannion obsesses over hate and revenge, in a chilling transformation of character, he becomes the moral equivalent of the gangsters he despises.

Known for stark, intense visuals, here director Lang contrasts gloomy, barlike shadows that bind the characters to their destiny with shocks of scouring white light suggesting revelation. Lang was also known for being difficult with cast and crew, but Ford for one never saw Lang’s tyrannical side.

In “Glenn Ford: A Life” by Peter Ford, the famed actor describes his experience: “Fritz Lang came out of the old German studio system, where the director was like a dictator, barking commands and making people jump. He had a pretty nasty reputation in some quarters. There were people in Hollywood who had worked with him who hated his guts, especially some of the crew guys down the line. I mean, there were stories of people throwing lights at him and threatening to kill him for the way he treated them.

“So I head into this picture wondering how bad it’s going to be. And then Fritz and I met and had a couple of cocktails, and he couldn’t have been sweeter. He treated me with great respect. A wonderful friend, and I learned so much from him. We’re talking about one of the real geniuses of the movie business.”

Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin: a couple with, um, a problem or two.

“The Big Heat” drew inspiration from real-life events a few years before the film was made. When the U.S. Senate set up the Kefauver Committee to probe organized crime, televised hearings brought the Mafia into the consciousness of the American public. Sydney Boehm wrote the script from a serial by William P. McGivern in the Saturday Evening Post.

And of course, any time crime’s on the rise, you know loose women are involved, which brings me to the pièce de résistance: Grahame as Debby. Though she doesn’t get a huge amount of screentime, she’s funny and fresh, and brims over with sexpot charm – striking the perfect balance between waifish, wide-eyed vulnerability and pleasure-seeking sophistication.

Once Debby realizes the depth of Vince’s depravity – burning a young woman’s hand with his cigarette is small potatoes to this guy – she switches her loyalty to the righteous but rigid Bannion. And when Vince learns of her betrayal, she gets burned, literally, with a pot of boiling coffee. We hear, but don’t see, Debby’s wounded reaction in one of the most famous moments in the movies.

With her looks gone, Debby tells Bannion everything she knows and commits the murder that will bring down the syndicate. Oh, and throwing coffee? Two can play at that game. I’d like to see a Starbucks barrista do better.

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