The American Society of Cinematographers

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Dark Knight Rises
DVD Playback
1900
The Big Heat
Somethings Gonna
ASC Close-Up
The Big Heat (1953)
The Limited Edition Series Blu ray
1.33:1 (High Definition 1080p)
DTS-HD Master Audio Monaural
Twilight Time, $29.95



Steely Bertha Duncan (Jeanette Nolan) finds her high ranking, police brass husband the victim of his own gun with a scathing suicide note at his dead hands. Before calling authorities, the calculating widow reads the note and phones dangerous organized crime boss Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) to let him know she's on the payroll now.  All of her husband's confessions regarding the corrupt police force that allows Lagana's racquets to flourish won't make it, as addressed, to the DA's office but instead to her safety deposit box which will cost the boss a mere 500 bucks a week.  With the deal made and crocodile tears misting her cheeks, the black widow then explains how she found her husband to homicide Sgt. Dan Bannion (Glen Ford).

While Bannion investigates, he's thrown when a b-girl, Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green) who had come forward claiming to be the dead man's lover,  turns up tortured and dead at the side of the road.  As Bannion investigates he uncovers links to Lagana. When police department “higher ups” try to steer him away from Lagana, no-nonsense Bannion ignores the hints and boldly confronts the wealthy criminal, crashing a lavish party at his mansion.

As Bannion continues to pry, his adoring wife Katie (Jocelyn Brando) is threatened.  Bannion becomes an increasingly self-righteous avenging angel when tragedy finally strikes as a result of his efforts.  Furious Bannion brazenly confronts some of Lagana's crew including sadistic right hand Vince Stone (Lee Marvin) and Stone's girl, breezy gun moll Debby Marsh (the incomparable Gloria Grahame).   

Debby feels Bannion's been wronged and agrees to talk to him about the situation.  It's a bold move and she pays a hefty price to jealous Vince who flings a scalding pot of boiling coffee in her face. Devastated, she seeks Bannion for protection and, from the hotel room shadows where she hides her permanently scarred face, Debby agrees to help him bring “the big heat” down on Lagana, Bertha and especially sadistic Vince.

While German emigre director Fritz Lang made many films in Hollywood, The Big Heat (1953) is one of his most popular.  This “late period film noir” crime drama focuses on social and political corruption themes that had long plagued the director's life.  Having been harassed by the Nazi party that found his films Dr. Mabuse (1922) and Metropolis (1927) contentious before he fled Germany and then later being blacklisted for suspicion of being a communist by HUAC in 1950, Lang understood corruption and abuses of power all too well. The brutally frank, relentless narrative of The Big Heat by screenwriter Sydney Boehm from Saturday Evening Post crime writer William P. McGivern's serial was the perfect vehicle for Lang's increasingly dark and pessimistic view of society.

To imbue The Big Heat with its sinister shadows and stark, bleak monochromatic contrasts Lang again collaborated with director of photography Charles Lang, ASC whom he had teamed with earlier on the gangster drama, You and Me (1938).  The veteran cinematographer known for his ability to capture any style quickly and easily, had just been nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the noir hit Sudden Fear (1952).  Lang's work on The Big Heat features numerous film noir stylistic staples such as shafts of light through window blinds, heavy shadows, reflection shots and overall sharp contrasts.  It's a landmark of noir style and is often mentioned as one of the prolific cinematographer's finest achievements.  Capping his career as cinematographer of well over 100 films,  Lang was the recipient of the ASC's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.

Twilight Time has recently debuted The Big Heat as a limited edition blu ray.  Like the other Twilight blu rays before it, the image transfer here is excellent.  The transfer has been made from clean source materials and the contrasts seem to perfectly represent the best looking film presentations of this title.  There's visible, spare film grain throughout with deep blacks and a wide, dimensional gray scale.  Compared to the existing, standard def DVD presentations there's a crisp new sense of detail in most shots from costume fabrics to set pieces that's appealing and film like. The DTS-HD monaural mix is surprising with a striking bass presence and strong fidelity throughout.

The violent, punishing world of the taut noir classic, The Big Heat continues to burn brightly with this terrific new disc. The only complaint is the lack of supplements. While there's an excellent essay by Julie Kirgo, quickly becoming a hallmark of the Twilight Time releases, and a theatrical trailer, it seems a shame that there isn't more included. Finally, like the scalding coffee that flies here, this pitch black film noir won't last as a limited edition of 3,000 units so get it while it's hot at www.screenarchives.com.

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