The Big Heat

On the outside, this is almost a boring story, and not very noir at all. Glenn Ford as Sgt. Bannion is the proverbial straight cop in a bent town, too good to be true, not cynical but still convinced good will beat evil in the end. He almost goes vigilante, almost lets his own darker side burst through, but in the end he lets a woman do the dirty job.

Ah, but that's where the film gets interesting, with this woman. Gloria Grahame is glorious as Debbie, who seems a supporting character for much of the movie, but don't get her angry. She's ditzy, perpetually drunk, and makes no excuses for placing money above everything else, but she's the cynical hero of this noir tale in the end. She's the one who gets all the good lines, too: she says of her perfume that it's "something new. It attracts mosquitoes and repels men", and as explanation for her roaring rampage of revenge, all she offers is a pouty "Vince should have never ruined my looks. It was a rotten thing to do".

She gets a raw deal, Debbie. All she does is execute Bannion's wishes, so that he can keep his conscience clean and return to his Sgt's desk while she's punished. She's by far the most interesting character here, but like the other women, she ends up by the side of the road.

I really can't recommend this film enough. It's deceptively simple, but there's so much lurking beneath the surface, so many repressed feelings and undercurrents of violence, violence against woman in particular. And then there's Lee Marvin, who is positively amazing here, making his sadistic thug more interesting than he has any right to be. It's a noir as noirs should be: in the end, the bad guys are punished and good does win, but we don't get to feel triumphant about it.

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