Gloria Grahame Movies: 'Crossfire' & 'The Big Heat' Tough Siren

by Andre Soares
Gloria Grahame in Crossfire
Gloria Grahame in Crossfire.

In films, Grahame usually came across as vulgar, sleazy, and untrustworthy – and I mean that as a compliment; in my book, shady movie characters have almost invariably been much more interesting than clean-cut movie heroes. Off-screen she could be just as interesting: for instance, footage from the 1954 A Star Is Born premiere shows the actress clearly intoxicated (and not giving a damn about it), and she was daring enough to marry both director Nicholas Ray (1948–1952) and his son Anthony Ray (1960–1974; some sources say 1961–1976).

In fact, had Grahame been a guy she'd quite possibly have as a big a name today as fellow rebel Robert Mitchum. Unfortunately, no fashionable connoisseur has “rediscovered” the importance of her work or the amount of her talent, but there's still time for her to become a top cult figure.

Of the Grahame films listed below that I've seen, the one I'd most recommend is – not surprisingly – The Big Heat, one of the top productions of the 1950s. Fritz Lang's tough crime flick (written by Sydney Boehm) stars Glenn Ford as a determined cop fighting mobsters, while Grahame plays a tough sex worker who would make even Bette Davis' villainesses run home screaming for mama. Considering that Grahame had won an Academy Award for her ineffectual supporting performance in The Bad and the Beautiful the year before, I find it amazing that not enough Academy members found her coffee-stained antiheroine fascinating enough to warrant a best actress nomination.

Produced by Adrian Scott, directed by Edward Dmytryk, and written by John Paxton, the socially conscious Crossfire (1947) is another good one, though many find it quite dated. The Brick Foxhole, future film director Richard Brooks' novel on which the film was based, revolves around a case of gay bashing, but homosexuality was still taboo in those days (and, really, most audience members back then quite possibly thought that gays were perverts who should be bashed) so the murder victim was turned into a Jew. Grahame acquits herself well enough in her Oscar-nominated supporting performance as a shady “cafe hostess,” while fellow Oscar nominee Robert Ryan is, as always, excellent as the serviceman with some serious psychological issues.

And that is what I find most interesting about Crossfire: though made a mere two years after the end of World War II, the film doesn't idolize the Everyman Soldier; instead, it shows that even those who had just fought for Flag & Freedom could be capable of committing – and/or abetting – some pretty atrocious deeds.

Needless to say, both Dmytryk and Scott ran into problems with the House Un-American Activities Committee. In fact, they were two of the Hollywood Ten. (Dmytryk later named names and was able to resume his career.) John Paxton, who had also collaborated with Scott and Dmytryk in Murder, My Sweet and Cornered, was reportedly “gray-listed.” His screenwriting career dwindled away in the early 1950s.

The Glass Wall, in which Grahame co-stars with Vittorio Gassman, is the only TCM premiere of the day. Though one novelty is better than none, it's too bad TCM didn't unearth some of Grahame's more obscure films of the 1970s. The titles are tantalizing: The Loners, Tarot, Mama's Dirty Girls, Mansion of the Doomed. Here's hoping they'll pop up in one of TCM's quirky Friday night presentations.

13 Thursday Pacific Time

3:00 AM Blonde Fever (1944)
A woman fights to save her husband from a sluttish waitress. Cast: Philip Dorn, Mary Astor, Gloria Grahame. Dir.: Richard Whorf. Black and white. 69 min.

4:15 AM It Happened In Brooklyn (1947)
A returning GI and his friends try to make it in the music business. Cast: Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Kathryn Grayson, Gloria Grahame. Dir.: Richard Whorf. Black and white. 103 min.

6:00 AM Merton of the Movies (1947)
A star-struck hick goes to Hollywood to become a star. Cast: Red Skelton, Virginia O'Brien, Gloria Grahame. Dir.: Robert Alton. Black and white. 82 min.

7:30 AM Roughshod (1949)
A rancher tries to save his fellow stagecoach passengers from a murderous enemy. Cast: Robert Sterling, Claude Jarman Jr., Gloria Grahame. Dir.: Mark Robson. Black and white. 88 min.

9:00 AM Crossfire (1947)
A crusading district attorney investigates the murder of a Jewish man. Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame. Dir.: Edward Dmytryk. Black and white. 86 min.

10:30 AM Macao (1952)
A man on the run in the Far East is mistaken for an undercover cop. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, William Bendix. Dir.: Josef von Sternberg. Black and white. 81 min.

12:00 PM The Glass Wall (1953)
A World War II refugee fights to stay in the U.S. Cast: Vittorio Gassman, Gloria Grahame, Ann Robinson. Dir.: Maxwell Shane. Black and white. 80 min.

1:30 PM A Woman's Secret (1949)
A retired singer takes on a protegee only to be betrayed by her. Cast: Maureen O'Hara, Gloria Grahame, Melvyn Douglas. Dir.: Nicholas Ray. Black and white. 85 min.

3:00 PM The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
An unscrupulous movie producer uses everyone around him in his climb to the top. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland. Dir.: Vincente Minnelli. Black and white. 118 min.

5:00 PM In a Lonely Place (1950)
An aspiring actress begins to suspect that her temperamental boyfriend is a murderer. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. Dir.: Nicholas Ray. Black and white. 93 min.

6:45 PM The Big Heat (1953)
A police detective whose wife was killed by the mob teams with a scarred gangster's moll to bring down a powerful gangster. Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Jocelyn Brando. Dir.: Fritz Lang. Black and white. 90 min.

8:30 PM The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
A circus ringmaster and an egotistical trapeze artist vie for the love of a pretty acrobat. Cast: Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame. Dir.: Cecil B. DeMille. Color. 152 min.

11:15 PM The Cobweb (1955)
Inmates and staff at a posh asylum clash over love and lunacy. Cast: Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Gloria Grahame. Dir.: Vincente Minnelli. Color. 124 min.

1:30 AM Chandler (1971)
A former private eye lands in hot water when he agrees to protect a government witness. Cast: Warren Oates, Leslie Caron, Alex Dreier. Dir.: Paul Magwood. Color. 86 min.

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1 comment

Jeff -

In my opinion Gloria was THE BEST film noir bad girl.

I agree, her best role was Debbie in “The Big Heat”, but she was also sensational in “Human Desire” where she tried to get boyfriend Glenn Ford to kill nasty hubby Broderick Crawford, and in “Sudden Fear” when she conspires with Jack Palance to kill Joan Crawford. Don't know what she had against Crawfords, but she was at her best trying to kill them. lol

Loved her in “A Lonely Place” too with Humphrey Bogart.

A fascinating biography is:
Suicide blonde: the life of Gloria Grahame by Vincent Curcio

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