A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
Dave Bannion is an upright cop on the trail of a vicious gang he suspects holds power over the police force. Bannion is tipped off after a colleague's suicide and his fellow officers' suspicious silence lead him to believe that they are on the gangsters' payroll. When a bomb meant for him kills his wife instead, Bannion becomes a furious force of vengeance and justice, aided along the way by the gangster's spurned girlfriend Debbie. As Bannion and Debbie fall further and further into the Gangland's insidious and brutal trap, they must use any means necessary (including murder) to get to the truth. Written by
Coming full cycle, Hollywood seems to be back on the theme of good cop vs. bad cops controlled by the mob. Recently "16 Blocks" successfully pitted honest Bruce Willis against dishonest city hall. For a time, with "The Big Easy" being an early example, this type movie presented the image of a totally corrupt government from top to bottom with omnipresent mob ties indicating cynical times, even the one good cop being tainted, just not as much as others. "The Big Heat" is a prime example of this type film in the early Cold War period, emphasizing the importance of one good man standing up against all odds, in particular unconcerned citizens who either themselves become tainted or who are simply apathetic as long as they are left alone. "The Big Heat" like "High Noon" showed that the good must take a stand or the entire house will come crumbling down with the rodents taking over.
Glenn Ford was never a versatile actor. In the right role he could carry the load sufficiently to get by. In the wrong role, his acting was amateurish. That he had potential is indicated by his performances in two movies, "Gilda" and "The Big Heat." Arguably, his role as Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion is the better of the two. Perhaps it is the inimitable director Fritz Lang that prods Ford on to realize his true talents. There is no doubt that Ford makes Sgt. Bannion come alive and puts real flesh on his bones. Ford is so good in this film and in "Gilda" that he deserved more recognition than he got from the Hollywood big wigs.
The two shining performances are given by Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin who run away with the show. They provide one of the legendary scenes in film history that just about everyone has either seen or read about, when Vince Stone (Marvin)--note the last name of Stone--pitches a container of boiling coffee into Debby Marsh's (Grahame) face, scarring her for life. Vince Stone's demise is also memorable. The coffee sequence alone is worth the price of admission.
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