Too often the reward for doing what's right is chaos and death, even if one succeeds. Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame's characters in Fritz Lang's 1953 noir The Big Heat both find this out though they both start out at two different sides of the moral tracks. Even as films noir go, The Big Heat creates an exceptionally sinister and realistic world and is a captivating portrait of brutality and futility.
Debby (Gloria Grahame) is introduced at the beginning of the film but after that we don't see much of her until halfway through. Nevertheless, her character is the more memorable of the two leads--her boyfriend is Vince Stone (Lee Marvin), a gangster and second in command to Lagana (Alexander Scourby), who essentially runs the city. We see that he even has the police commissioner in his pocket. But Debby doesn't really care--guys come by the apartment and talk business while she enjoys being adored.
When Lagana drops by, he walks in on Debby hopping around holding a little bamboo cane in a childish display for the men. Her whole life is like being a three year old at a big family Christmas party. Feeling safe in the vague security that the grownups are keeping things under control with their impenetrable discussions, she's happy to be the superficial diversion. Then she sees Bannion (Glenn Ford) beat up a guy for robbing a woman and her boyfriend at a bar.
She doesn't seem to know why, but she follows Bannion. She goes up to his hotel room and doesn't quite seem to know what to do. She sits on his bed.
Bannion's a recently suspended police detective--they took his badge but not his gun because, as he tells the crooked commissioner, he bought the gun himself. Unlike Debby, Bannion holds himself as the ultimate authority. He enjoys beating up uncooperative witnesses. It's a good thing he has an improbably perfect wife but his M.O. is part of the reason he's living alone in a hotel room by the time Debby meets him.
Debby gives him information to help him in his one man investigation. Then she goes home to Stone who burns off half her face with a pot of coffee for talking to Bannion.
So now she's never going to be the doll again--she got mixed up in the business she'd always avoided understanding and the fruit of knowledge has gotten her expelled her from the paradise of ignorance.
One could say Debby works as a larger commentary on women's liberation, the difficulty of the road faced by women who attempt to transcend their prescribed, objectified role. But considering the parallel in Bannion's story, the idea is bigger than that--it's about the terrible costs of self determination for anyone.
Twitter Sonnet #661
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