The Big Knife (1955)
Not Enough of That Aldrich Style
2 April 2008
This rather over-heated Clifford Odets play gets the screen treatment by pulp specialist director Robert Aldrich.

Jack Palance plays Charles Castle, a sex symbol movie star who's blackmailed into re-signing a seven-year contract with his sleazy producer/director, Stanley Hoff (Rod Steiger). Charlie's wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), wants her husband back, and tries to persuade him to refuse. The wife (Jean Hagen) of his agent comes on to him; a floozy studio bit player (Shelley Winters) wants him too. Everybody has something on him and tries to use it to get him to do what he/she wants. The film is a bitter and caustic expose of the Hollywood studio system as it existed in 1955, and how selling yourself to the bigwigs was akin to selling your soul to the devil.

The film is too talky by far, and it's marred by sub-par acting, especially from Palance himself, who isn't right for the role, and Steiger, who's absolutely atrocious, screaming his way through an unwatchably mannered performance. Aldrich does his best to lend some visual variety to what is essentially a one-set movie, but it feels restricted. While it's satisfyingly sordid, it doesn't have the fascinating depravity so prominent in Aldrich's other 1955 release, "Kiss Me Deadly."

Grade: B
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