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I Found It At the Movies: 1953–The Big Heat (Fritz Lang)

I Found It At the Movies: 1953–The Big Heat (Fritz Lang)

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Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1953: The Big Heat (Fritz Lang)

This is the noir that first hooked me on the genre.

I first saw it as part of a Fritz Lang retrospective that was curated by Lang authority Bernard Eisenschitz at the amazing Cinéma Lux in Caen, France. I believe Eisenschitz screened every single Lang film over the course of a month. It was 1994 and my transformation into becoming a true cinephile was still in its early stages, so I didn’t realize the magnitude of the opportunity presented by Eisenschitz and Cinéma Lux. I think The Big Heat was the only Lang film I went and saw at the time.

I mentioned in my post on Out of the Past that I’m a fan of noir for several reasons. One of those is that I like the complex and mysterious stories of many of the genre’s key films. But even more important is the rawness and brutal honesty that these films seem to have. When I first saw The Big Heat I remember being absolutely jolted by its car explosion and the “incident” with Gloria Grahame. At the time, it was the most unfiltered violence I’d ever seen on screen. Or if not, it certainly felt that way.

I think many people, in the middle of their “angst” years (usually teens, maybe early twenties, sometimes forever) gravitate towards those things that would never appeal to their parents. The Big Heat (and later, noir in general) was the first cinematic equivalent of this for me. Sure, I liked the characters, the moviemaking, the stories. But what I particularly responded to was its lack of sentimentality. The Big Heat is an angry, pissed off film. Those feelings made sense to me, and seeing them played out on screen, without any edge taken off, felt more real than most of what I’d seen up to that point.

I still love this film. It’s cold, mean, and unapologetic. But just spend five minutes looking into Lang’s life, and you’ll understand why.

What moviemakers can learn: Sometimes audiences appreciate movies that go all the way, past both their comfort zones and what is possible and acceptable in real life. Lang does this several times here, and always to great effect.

Other contenders for 1953: As with other years, I have some gaps here. These include: Luis Buñuel’s El, Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika, Phil Karlson’s 99 River Street, John Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright, Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker and George Stevens’ Shane (yes, I admit it!). I really need to rewatch Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu and Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story; since it’s been so long since I’ve seen either of them, I’m unsure where they would place on a favorites list. I also intend to revisit Max Ophüls’ Madame De… (I think it was Scorsese who said you have to have a certain maturity to really appreciate it. Maybe I have it by now?). The films that I really like from this year are Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur, Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street, John Ford’s Mogambo, William Wyler’s Roman Holiday, Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity. Meanwhile my closest runner-up, with its harrowing action and great performance from Yves Montand, is Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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