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New on Disc: 'The Big Heat' and more …

21 May, 2012 By: Mike Clark

The Big Heat

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby.
As character motivation goes, the movie often cited as the best of Fritz Lang’s Hollywood output must have one of the most convincingly brass-tacks explanations of them all. Direct from having ruffled the feathers of an unnamed city’s “Mr. Big,” here’s hardheaded cop Glenn Ford engaged in a benign daddy-talk respite with his very young daughter just as mommy steps on the driveway gas pedal on her way to go pick up the babysitter. Hear mommy go “Ka-boom!” (and neighborhood property values presumably plummet). But really, the detective-sergeant Ford’s playing wasn’t all that happy about the way things were going even before the explosion. This is a movie where just about everyone in town is under the thumb of an outwardly clean power broker (Alexander Scourby), whose cotillion-type offspring and their friends (whose placid party Ford invades in one memorable scene) are above the grimy fray and likely all members of Eddie Fisher’s fan club. It’s significant that in The Big Heat’s most famous scene — Scourby henchman Lee Marvin throwing scalding liquid into the face of his supposed girlfriend Gloria Grahame — the wuss who’s ordered to get the poor woman to the hospital is the police commissioner. Sidney Boehm’s tough screenplay is a honey — so tight that this Columbia Pictures gem runs 90 minutes.
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Norman Mailer: The American

Cinema Libre, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Forever entertaining, though with less intimidation as he approached his eye-twinkling emeritus stage, proudly Brooklyn-raised Norman Mailer always seemed to be everywhere over the decades. As with writing peers James Jones and Irwin Shaw, Mailer’s formative old-school World War II experiences paved the way for a major postwar novel of “Great American” ambitions, but he was also enough of the then-burgeoning times to become a co-founder of The Village Voice. This biographical portrait by Joseph Mantegna (not the actor) makes 85 minutes go very quickly, though it doesn’t fully tap into how mesmerizing Mailer was to listen to — though, bonus extras that capture him on an array of subjects smooth this gap over some. Nor is it particularly explorative of what Mailer could do with nouns, verbs and adjectives (not that this is easy to do on film), emphasizing instead the writer’s psychological state throughout the years. On this level, the result hits at least a triple, thanks to the almost awe-inspiring on-camera participation of key wives.
Extras: It’s kind of eerie to see Mailer speak of the novel’s decline in importance to the general public — and to predict with a very clear crystal ball what mass computer usage would do to people.
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This Could Be the Night

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $17.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Jean Simmons, Anthony Franciosa, Paul Douglas, Julie Wilson.
Director Robert Wise’s mildly eccentric sweetheart of a nightclub comedy essentially plunks Snow White into a bookie den. Kinetically directed and shot (by the great Russell Harlan), Night is a kind of a fairly tale about a moonlighting schoolteacher (Jean Simmons) who takes an unlikely secretarial job at a Manhattan nightspot run by an Italian tomcat who lives over the club (Anthony Franciosa in his screen debut) and a gruff but soft-hearted Prohibition veteran (Paul Douglas) who wants to protect her from lowlifes.
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