The Big Knife
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by James Poe from a play by Clifford Odets
The Associates & Aldrich Company
First viewing/Netflix rental
Charlie Castle: Oh, there’s room in the world for ’em.
This is a Hollywood expose along the lines of Sunset Blvd. or The Bad and the Beautiful. Unfortunately, it lacks the former’s black humor or the latter’s production values and is an over-the-top mess.
Charlie Castle (Jack Palance) is a big movie star. In his past life, he was a fiery idealist and theater actor. His wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), is disgusted with him and wants him to leave the studio. She is already living apart from him and threatens a divorce if he continues with his life style, which also includes numerous affairs.
Charlie has a problem though. Ruthless studio head Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod Steiger) is pressuring him to sign up for another seven years. He makes Charlie an offer he can’t refuse when he threatens to reveal that Charlie was the driver in a hit-and-run collision with a child, a deed for which another man took the rap. Hoff also knows that Charlie was accompanied by starlet Dixie Evans (Shelley Winters) at the time, something that Marion is not yet aware of.
I will not reveal all the twists and turns of the plot except to note that we get a couple of different women attempting seduction by means of blackmail and a murder conspiracy. With Wendell Corey as Hoff’s right-hand man, Jean Hagen as a would-be adulteress, and Edward Everett Sloane as Charlie’s agent.
The dialogue is overwritten in the way that characterizes many films based on plays by Odets. The story is too full of incidents for the time allotted and the ending leapt out at me from left field. Finally, Rod Steiger hams it up ludicrously. His bleached hair and hearing aid do not help. The title led me to expect a film noir but I got an overblown melodrama instead.