The Big Heat by Colin McArthur (1992)
Colin McArthur’s The Big Heat is an entry in the BFI Film Classics, a series of petite books, each written by a different author, which each tackle an analysis of a classic film and the cultural reception surrounding each title. McArthur’s entry in the series focuses on Fritz Lang’s 1953 crime classic The Big Heat. McArthur’s book is split into five chapters. The first chapter discusses the original William McGivern novel upon which the film is based, the second chapter deals with the production of the film and Columbia’s decision to buy the rights to the McGivern story, and chapter three focuses on the film’s critical reception at the time of it’s release. The first three chapters make for a pretty fascinating (and very accessible) read. Then, unfortunately, McArthur goes totally off the rails in the book’s forth chapter and begins a tedious discussion about internal politics of the British Film Institute, which is an aside that the average reader will find rambling and useless. Luckily McArthur gets his act together for the final chapter in the book, in which he attempts a detailed analysis of the film itself.
Despite McArthur’s misstep in chapter four, The Big Heat is a solid read for fans of Lang in general or this film in particular. As a final note, I found the book’s brevity (it’s 78 pages long) to be an asset as it made the book easily digestible in a day, however those looking for a lot of content for their buck may want to look elsewhere.