Ford, Grahame, and Lang: The Big Heat

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Columbia paid $40 thousand for the rights to The Big Heat, which ran as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post.

Director Fritz Lang said, "Through the detective film, I was looking for a form of social criticism. The Big Heat shows corrupt policemen..."

Originally, George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, and Paul Muni were considered for key roles before the Glenn Ford took the lead. Ford was still benefiting from the success of another film noir, Gilda. In fact, The Big Heat even teased audiences by playing an instrumental version of “Put the Blame on Mame”, the song sung by Rita Hayworth’s character.

1. The boys got along with Lang.

Director Fritz Lang had a reputation for having a temper, and some actors and even crew members had intense feelings for him. But that wasn’t the case for Glenn Ford or Lee Marvin. Ford said, “He treated me with great respect. A wonderful friend, and I learned so much from him. We’re talking about one of the real geniuses of the movie business.” Similarly, Marvin got along with the director. At one point, he checked in to make sure his performance was satisfactory, and Lang informed him that his tough guy persona was perfect.

2. Grahame didn’t…

Gloria liked to keep her performance fresh and changed it up from take to take. Lang didn’t appreciate this improvisational approach, and the two butted heads. Recalling Lang's directing style, Ford said, "He had in mind what he wanted to see to the exact inch." At one point, as the story goes, Lang threatened to film Grahame with her back to the camera and hire a parrot to say her lines. Despite their differences, Grahame and Lang worked together again on Human Desire, released a year later (read about that film here).

3. Censorship played a role.

The Big Heat included plot points that got the attention of the censors. To appease them, some elements were changed or removed, such as the romance between Ford and Grahame. However, Lang didn’t want to eliminate other crucial elements, even though they were considered too violent. So he shot them in such a way as to get around the objections. For example, Gloria Grahame is only heard off-screen when Lee Marvin attacks her with hot coffee.

4. Grahame struggled with a line.

In the film, Gloria Grahame takes a crack at her boyfriend, played by Lee Marvin, commenting that he’s always at his boss’ beck-and-call. However, according to Chris Alcaide, who also played a henchman, Grahame had trouble. Rather than saying “Hup Larry! Hup Vince!”, she said, “Hump Larry! Hump Vince”. To which Lang responded, “There will be no humping in this picture!”

5. Two good Grahame lines were added.

The Big Heat is a compelling, though heavy film noir. Thankfully, Gloira Grahame's character brings some much needed levity to the story, and two of her funniest lines actually came about thanks to the actress herself. To spice up her dialogue, Grahame turned to comedy writer Cy Howard (whom she later married), and he wrote these two stand-out lines: “We’re sisters under the mink” and “I like it: early nothing”.