Looking Back at Heat

Welcome to October. Football continues, baseball’s regular season will end in a few days, and for many of you – the cooler weather will result in lowered electrical bills as you might not need to run the air-conditioner as often as you had over the last few months. Although this is not a world-wide trend, it is true that people in the northern Hemisphere will begin to enjoy the transition towards cooler days.

But are we completely done with hot weather? Not if you live close to the equator, and not if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. The reality is that it is always hot in some parts of this world; and certainly  having me state this as a fact, does not make it a newsworthy item.

So in advance of the coming delightful Fall weather, we shall take a last look at heat. Specifically films that have HEAT in their titles. I’ve assembled a list of films from the 40’s through the 90’s, so let’s have some fun and take a look at them.

White Heat opened on September 2nd, 1949. The stars of this film/noir were James Cagney, Viginia Mayo, and Edmond O’Brien. Directed by Raoul Walsh, the film did not win any Oscars, but more recently, this movie has been considered a classic in gangsters/prison genre.

James Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, the vicious and ruthless leader of a gang that specializes in armed robberies. Virginia Mayo plays his wife, and Edmond O’Brien plays an undercover cop who goes into prison to get close to Jarrett.

Jarrett was smart, sadistic, and tough. Some say that his devotion to his Mother, played by Margaret Wycherly was borderline creepy. Many have wondered how some of those scenes got past the ‘censors’ in those days.

In any event, Jarrett was married to the sexy and beautiful Verna (Virginia Mayo).

Verna Jarrett: I’d look good in a mink coat, honey.

Cody Jarrett: You’d look good in a shower curtain.

The film’s classic and unforgettable ending is set up by the gang attempting a payroll heist at a chemical plant. The plans go bad, (remember that undercover cop?), and Jarrett is chased. He climbs to the top of a huge gas storage tank. After being winged by a police sniper, Jarrett decides to go out in a blaze. He shoots and ignites the the gas. With the flames surrounding him he screams –

"Made it, Ma! Top of the world!"...

… just before the gas tank explodes. As the film closes, the undercover cop says, “He finally got to the top of the world and it blew up right in his face.”

In 1953 another film/noir called The Big Heat opened in theaters on October 14th. The stars were Glenn Ford as Dave Bannon the cop, Gloria Graham as Debby Marsh, a gangster’s moll, and Lee Marvin as Vince Stone, the mob’s enforcer.. Ford’s tough cop is out to solve the suicide of a crooked cop which to Bannon, looked like a murder. He is also looking at  some other gang-land slayings, and the corruption that was endemic in the city, reaching all the way to the upper echelons of the police force as well as the political leaders.

Directed by Fritz Lang, The Big Heat, had it all – machismo, violence, damsels in distress, and a cop who just would not look the other way. Ford as Bannon was so ruthless that when he was forced by his superiors to quit the police force because he was closing in on the truth, and they didn’t want that, he went out on a one-man crusde to bring down the bad guys.

The film had a sharp script and Gloria Graham as Debbie Marsh had most of the best lines:

Vince Stone: Hey, that’s nice perfume.

Debby Marsh: Something new. It attracts mosquitoes and repels men.


The intense and sincere Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin seated and not looking his best, and Gloria Graham


Debby Marsh: Well, you’re about as romantic as a pair of handcuffs.

And one more: We’re sisters under the mink.

Interestingly, Glenn Ford would go on to co-star with Sidney Poitier in Blackboard Jungle in 1955. And Poitier co-starred in the next film up for discussion.

Ray Charles sang the classic theme song for the 1967 Oscar winning film – In the Heat of the Night. The stars were Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, and Larry Gates. The Director was Norman Jewison. The film garnered five Oscars including Best Picture and Steiger won for Best Actor. The Director was nominated but didn’t win. And Poitier didn’t even get nominated.

But the picture was popular because it offered a ray of hope regarding racial harmony which was distinctly not present in the country during that time. In fact, though the film was set in the deep South in a town called Sparta, Mississippi, the film was actually filmed in Sparta, Illinois, and that was due to the political conditions in Mississippi.

In a nutshell, the story is about this small town in the Deep South. A murder occurs just about the time a black homicide detective from Philadelphia was in town to catch a train after visiting his family in a nearby town. The town’s Police Chief’s first inclination was to arrest this black man (Virgil Tibbs played by Poitier) but when Tibbs tells Gillespie that he is a Police Officer in Philadelphia, Gillespie is forced to change his mind.

In fact, Tibbs knowledge of forensics is so superior to that of Gillespie, that Tibbs is asked by his own chief to help Gillespie solve the case. In an emotionally charged and shocking scene, we find Tibbs, Gillespie, and Eric Endicott in Endicott’s greenhouse. Endicott was an orchid enthusiast. Upon the suggestion -insinuation by Tibbs, that he (Endicott) may have murdered Colbert (part of the evidence was an orchid petal), Endicott slaps Tibbs across the face. Tibbs promptly slaps him right back. Endicott is positively shocked. As are we as this was totally unexpected.

Eric Endicott: Gillespie?

Chief Gillespie: Yeah.

Eric Endicott: You saw it.

Chief Gillespie: I saw it.

Eric Endicott: Well, what are you gonna do about it?

Chief Gillespie: I don’t know.

Eric Endicott: I’ll remember that.

[to Tibbs]

Eric Endicott: There was a time when I could’ve had you shot.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/382783/In-The-Heat-Of-The-Night-Movie-Clip-Like-The-Negro.html(click the link to view the video clip of the above scene).

This was just one of a series of memorable encounters in the film which so richly deserved its Oscars.

But not every film in this list was an Oscar winner, or even memorable. In 1974 Caged Heat was released by Roger Corman, long noted for being the king of the “B” pictures genre. This was another in a series of exploitation films about women in prison; a genre that was enjoyed by men at that time, especially after Pam Grier ignited the imaginations of many men after she too played in a Women In Prison film. The lure was easy to understand – women in skimpy clothing, living in close quarters. Shared showers, lesbians, and prison guards and doctors who would regularly force these women in to having sex. These films were the stuff misogynists dreamed about. For the record, Grier did not act in this film. The actresses listed on the film’s cast list included Juanita Brown, Roberta Collins, Erica Gavin, Ella Reid, and an import from the UK,  Barbara Steele.

Steele played the Superintendent of the prison who was wheel-chair bound. The other cast member who was notable was Erica Gavin who before this film had worked twice  with Russ Meyer in Vixen and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

But Roger Corman was a savvy film producer. His ear was to the ground and he always managed to deliver what people wanted – with good taste, sensitivity, and political correctness (a term probably not even in use in 1974) ignored. Caged Heat was directed by Jonathan Demme who was pretty much an unknown at the time. Corman hired him to direct and at the time of this film’s theatrical run, no one could have foreseen that Demme would go on to fame and fortune and Oscars by directing such films as Married to the Mob (1988), Silence of the Lambs (1991), Philadelphia (1993), and The Manchurian Candidate (2004).

Even if we can find no other relevant fact for Caged Heat’s success, we can be sure that movies like this ultimately lead to the issuance of prison uniforms for female convicts in the not too distant future.

In 1981 we had another film noir called Body Heat. This one starred William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, and Mickey Roarke. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan this was a hot and steamy film set in hot and steamy Florida. In a nutshell, Hurt played Ned Racine, a seedy lawyer, and Kathleen Turner, in her film debut, set the screen on fire as Matty Walker, a woman with a large sexual appetite.

One hot and steamy night, Ned and Matty meet. With plenty of intriguing verbal foreplay, they find each other irresistible.

Ned: I need someone to take care of me, someone to rub my tired muscles, smooth out my sheets.

Matty: Get married.

Ned: I just need it for tonight.

How about a second one? You can tell that things are getting interesting.

Matty: [to Ned] You aren’t too smart, are you? I like that in a man.

Ned: What else do you like? Lazy? Ugly? Horny? I got ’em all.

Matty: You don’t look lazy.

And one more to seal the deal...

Ned: Maybe you shouldn’t dress like that.

Matty: This is a blouse and a skirt. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Ned: You shouldn’t wear that body.

They soon are scorching the sheets together. Their passionate couplings lead to thoughts about being together permanently. There’s just one problem. Her husband. A murder plot is soon hatched.

Kasdan’s direction and creative screenplay, Turner’s looks, and Hurt’s desire carry this film. While you can see the influences of The Postman Always Ring Twice and Double Indemnity in Body Heat, this one can stand on it’s own as a modern day noir.

Meanwhile let’s head back to cops and crooks. In 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger paired up with Jim Belushi (Art Ridzik) in Walter Hill’s delightful Red Heat. Arnold played a cop (Captain Ivan Danko) from Russia who comes to Chicago to pick up a prisoner, ends up being on loan to the Chicago PD. Their target was a Russian mobster played by Ed O’Ross who was becoming a huge player in the distribution of drugs. Peter Boyle as a police Commander, Gena Gershon as the mobster’s moll, and Laurence Fishbourne (pre-Matrix) round out the cast.

Essentially a pair of cops, mismatched as they are, join forces to bring down the bad guys. Ah-nuld is of course, the fish-out-water Communist cop who has to learn the ways of the American cops. Belushi is something of a gung-ho cop, a loose-cannon, and smart enough to get by. He doesn’t use all his brains all the time, but he trots out his street savvy when needed like shaking a cigarette out of its package.

The film does a good job of mixing both comedy as well as action. And believe it or not, there are some memorable lines like this one:

Ivan Danko: I have car under control.

Art Ridzik: Yeah, I’m sure they taught you all about cars and the price of insurance at your famous Russian school in Kiev!

Ivan Danko: In socialist countries, insurance not necessary. State pays for everything.

Art Ridzik: Yeah? Well, tell me something, Captain. If you’ve got such a fucking paradise over there, how come you’re up the same creek as we are with heroin and cocaine?

Ivan Danko: Chinese find way. Right after revolution, they round up all drug dealers, all drug addicts, take them to public square, and shoot them in back of head.

Art Ridzik: Ah, it’d never work here. Fucking politicians wouldn’t go for it.

Ivan Danko: Shoot them first.

Or this one:

Art Ridzik: About this pile-of-shit pimp in here. In this country, we try to protect the rights of individuals. It’s called the Miranda Act, and it says that you can’t even touch his ass.

Ivan Danko: I do not want to touch his ass. I want to make him talk!

Our last film is the 1995 Crime thriller Heat. The film boasts an impressive cast led by to A-Listers Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. The supporting cast includes Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman and Tom Sizemore. Directed by Michael Mann of Miami Vice fame, this film ran nearly three hours, and if anything negative could be said, it would start with the length of the movie.

DeNiro’s Neil McCauley takes down scores like armed car robberies, like bank jobs, and so forth. He is determined, ruthless, and is very good at what he does. Pacino’s Lt. Vincent Hanna has similar credentials. He too is determined – his single-minded pursuit of murdering thieves has cost him two marriages, and his 3rd marriage is spiraling downhill.

We basically watch the story unfold from two vantage points – McCauley’s and Hanna’s. Until the finale De Niro and Pacino are on screen together only once. McCauley  was being tailed by the LAPD’s spy in the sky chopper. Hanna’s get’s dropped off from the chopper and continues the surveillance of McCauley in a tailing car. Eventually during this surveillance, Hanna decides to pull over McCauley’s car and confront him. He does and then invites his ‘quarry” for a cup of coffee.

They sit in a diner and discuss their joined at the hip occupations. We get this dialogue near the end of the scene:

Vincent Hanna: You know, we are sitting here, you and I, like a couple of regular fellas. You do what you do, and I do what I gotta do. And now that we’ve been face to face, if I’m there and I gotta put you away, I won’t like it. But I tell you, if it’s between you and some poor bastard whose wife you’re gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.

Neil McCauley: There is a flip side to that coin. What if you do got me boxed in and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We’ve been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second.

That scene may not compare to the action set pieces – the armored car heist and the bank robbery and getaway –

for thrills. But for pure dramatic tension, and a chance to see two of Hollywood’s best performers deep into their characters, this head-to-meeting of the dogged policeman and his prey, the cool as ice criminal mastermind, is indeed the highlight of the film.

That’s all the heat for today folks. Thanks for stopping by. If you can come up with any other ‘themes’ for a movie list, please let me know.

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