When a film noir shoots on all cylinders, doesn’t overcomplicate the plot and finds a way to not rely so much on cliché… well you get The Big Heat. A lot of the noirs that I have done in recent years have been fine, but none that come to mind managed to hit the heights that I was hoping for. Then again, that might just be the magic of Fritz Lang.
The man who brought the wonders of M and Metropolis may have also brought me one of the best film noirs that I have ever seen. It starts like any normal noir, someone has died in mysterious circumstances and a grizzled homicide detective is out to solve the mystery of this… and the rest of the crimes that follow.
What makes The Big Heat interesting is just how much it is able to subvert the classic noir tropes. For example, the whole film sees us watching both sides of the law plotting against one another – which is something that I know does happen in other noirs, but this film managed to do it in such a fashion that it felt like a true battle of one-upmanship. You also have a ‘hero’ who almost does the unthinkable.
The other thing that is very interesting about The Big Heat is the flashes of violence. Given this is the 1950s and we are still in the Code era, everything is pretty much done off screen with the exception of an attempted murder and a woman being burned with a cigarette (although that was still pretty concealed under his hand). Two of the biggest flashes also coincide with two of the more shocking moments – one of which I saw coming, but it was still pretty shocking.
At not even 90 minutes long, this film manages to rattle through the plot with some brilliant performances all around. Like, this is one of those films where I would be interested to see it again, just to see how much I would enjoy it knowing everything that’s going to happen. I think it wouldn’t make a difference, but one day I’ll see.