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Crime


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*The Big Heat (Blu-ray)*

 

The Big Heat is a brilliant film noir crime drama that I hold in very high esteem. The film is charged with electricity in this story of a honest cop trying to discover the answer to a murder, whyile being mired down by his higherups take orders from the cityy's gangboss, Lagana. Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame (the latter being the victim of one of cinema's most memorable sadistic scenes) all give extraordinary performances. One of director Fritz Lang's best.

 

 

I watched the Blu-ray tonight. The print is excellent, except I detected a few cases of haloing. Grain is defnitely present.

 

 

Audio could use a boost. At times, it was very good, but at others I had to crank up the receiver.

 

 

Extras included a trailer and an isolated music score. There is also a booklet that spends too many of its 8 pages doing a scene-by-scene story synopsis.

 

 

A recommended, high quality film noir on Blu-ray. (NOTE: This is from Twilight Time and is only a 3,000 print run.)

 

 

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*Murder in the First (Blu-ray)*

 

 

Do you know what's amazing? Forgetting what you did just yesterday, but remembering clearly every moment of something that happened almost twenty years ago. That's how it is with me. This movie means more to me than the average viewer, and you will hear more about it from me than the average reviewer. I was an extra in a number of scenes, and I remember the excitement...the boredom...and the earthquake that we went through that injured a number of the cast and crew.

 

 

My first encounter with this story of a prisoner who suffers the worst Alcatraz could give, started near the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank. Many people who wanted to be extras were lined up on Olive Street, waiting as the casting people walked up and down the line, looking us over. Many of us were dressed in clothes of the 1930s and 1940s. I was not an actor, never wanted to be, and never had the talent to be. But I was out of work and being an extra helped bring in some cash. A woman who lived in my apartment building was also standing with me, and I discovered quickly the difference between myself and a shark. Earlier in the day, she had gone through a professional hairstylist and got the makeup done, then a fancy 1930s dress. We were standing together in the line, talking, but as soon as the casting people came closer, she transformed into one of those people you see in movies who will do anything for her career, including stomping you under foot. hissed at me to pretend I didn't know her, though I had gone with her to the hairdresser and to the audition, and she did everything she could do to draw their attention. As it turned out, we both got hired.

 

 

Though the film was set in San Francisco, they shot the courtroom interiors in a warehouse in Sylmar, California. Day scenes were filmed at all times of the actual day thanks to the world of make-believe sun lighting on the "windows" of the "courtroom." I was assigned the role of a news photographer (there were about a dozen of us, but I think I was the only one who had a tripod camera...and you can see me in a few scenes, either with my bald head or a hat -- gad, I looked so young 17 years ago...sigh). (The young woman I mentioned earlier was cast as one of the people in the balcony watching the trial. Her overwhelming ambition drove her to asking a PA to move her downstairs to the main viewing area so she would be onscreen more. I think she also tried to get lines. The last I saw if her she was flirting with a member of the lighting crew. She was no longer on the set by the second day.)

 

 

Anyway, the various courtroom sequences were mostly starring Kevin Bacon and Christian Slater, as prisoner and lawyer, respectively. When you watch the movie, you will notice that each scene has dozens of angles. The director would shoot it with one camera (as I recall), and do what-seemed-like a neverending series of setups to cover every angle. I thought I would go mad doing the same scene over and over and over, in new angle after new angle after new angle. You've never seen anyone get as much coverage as he did. (And that set was hot...plus the fact that smoking cigars and cigarettes by the reporters was required. I was surrounded by cigar smokers even when we were between takes. It got to be a health issue and cigarettes and cigars were extinguished at the end of a take, and then re-lit before the camera rolled.)

 

 

Until I rewatched this movie tonight, I forgot that William H. Macy played the opposing attorney. He wasn't really a name then, I believe, and so I never paid much attention to him. I regret that now. I do remember wandering around the set and glancing at his desk and seeing grisly crime photos.

 

 

The scene with the warden on the witness stand was an ordeal for all involved because the actor who played him, Stefan Gierasch, blew his lines on every take. It finally got to the point where his lines were written on cue cards placed to the side of the camera.

 

 

I was there for the courtroom scenes once the trial has started, and out of all them, I recall the ones with Gary Oldman as a sadistic Alcatraz official and the one with Bacon on the witness stand the best. Oldman generated pure evil. And Bacon was brilliant throughout the film, but especially in this key scene. When you see those tears that roll down his face, that wasn't movie magic. I was there and they were real, believe me. (By the way, between takes, the Kevin Bacon you and I know would come out. One particular moment I remember was when spouse Kyra Sedgwick, who had a cameo in the film as a prostitute, visited the set with their two children. They were very happy but I seem to recall one of the children was disturbed seeing Bacon in the scar makeup and that he was in leg shackles.) (My memory of Christian Slater between setups was him leaving the set, accompanied by his huge bodyguard.)

 

 

Then came the night of January 16th, 1994. We were on a very late shift. They would usually work us about ten or more hours in a shift - though for the extras, we spent much of it in sitting in another building, dozing off, or playing a game, reading, or just making friends - so some days we would be there long hours, but by law be required to have several hours off before the next work period. As it happened, we were working this particular night late, on into January 17th. We were on the set. A long time. Finally, around 4:30 AM, we were told to take a break. We proceeded off the set and as we were just about to leave the warehouse, I felt myself losing my balance. I thought i was just dizzy for a moment. Then I heard something on the set crashing. The lights flickered and we were told to get out of the building as quickly as possible. The ground was shaking. We were in the middle of an earthquake. A very violent one. The Northridge Earthquake, as it would become known. We were only about a dozen miles from its epicenter and I'll tell you something...though an earthquake may only shake for about 30 seconds, it will seem like the longest time of your life. People were injured, some with bloody arms or legs, some people in shock. We were instructed to get away from the building and lay by the sidewalk at the street. I was lucky and only had a slight bruise or so and was able to escape the panic of the moment by trying to help people who were injured. We had to remain there until the sun came up. When the sun did arise, we could see black smoke rising high over different areas of Los Angeles.

 

 

The filming was put in hold. I think the set had been destroyed by the quake. When the company resumed filming, it was done entirely in SF.

 

 

And so that is why I look at this film differently than the average person.

 

 

As to the Blu-ray...the video is only so-so. It never gets in for serious "this-is-what-HD-is-about".

 

 

Audio is good.

 

 

Extras are only a 12-minute revisit by Kevin Bacon, which is informative.

 

 

Overall, recommended for the story.

 

 

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