Lang’s three best Hollywood pictures are Fury (1936), Scarlet Street (1945), and The Big Heat. Of these, the first and last have a great deal in common. In both, an honest, hardworking guy of no particular mettle is transformed into a veritable avenging angel after he’s screwed over by what we used to call “the system.” (Do we still call it “the system”? It’s probably got a fancier name now.) Fury, though, is about the impenetrable and inscrutable systems of small towns; The Big Heat is about the big city, Chinatown-style.
The great Gloria Grahame gets some of the best lines here–surveying a cheap motel room: “Say, I like this. Early nothing!”–but lord almighty, does she pay for her gaudy patter. A scarface to rival Scarface. She gets to die on a mink, though.
Funny how the sinister mobster who runs the world in this picture seems like an adolescent shoplifter compared to Dr. Mabuse.