“The Big Knife” (1955) directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger & Shelley Winters / Z-View

The Big Knife (1955)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Screenplay: James Poe based on The Big Knife by Clifford Odets

Stars: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger, Everett Sloane, Wesley Addy, Paul Langton, Nick Dennis, Bill Walker, Shelley Winters, Robert Emhardt, Michael Fox, Strother Martin and Richard Boone (narrator)

Tagline: A journey to the dark heart of Hollywood.

The Plot…

Charlie Castle (Palance) is a famous movie star.  Charlie has all of the benefits of being on top.  He’s rich, has a upscale home, a lovely wife and young son.  From all appearances Charlie is on top of the world.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Charlie’s contract is up and he’s being pressured by studio owner, Stanley Hoff (Steiger) to sign a long-term deal.  Hoff has the power to make or break stars, and he uses it without discretion.  Charlie wants out.  Tired of Charlie’s career coming before his family, his wife Marion (Lupino) says she will leave him if he re-signs.

But Charlie has a dark secret that would cost him everything if it came out… and Stanley Hoff will tell the world if Charlie doesn’t sign the contract today.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Because of the unflattering look at Hollywood several studios turned down the film.  Director Robert Aldrich’s company made the movie.  After the film’s release Aldrich had trouble getting more directing jobs.  He made a couple of films in Europe before returning to the US.

Many thought that Steiger’s character was a take-off of Harry Cohen (Columbia’s studio head).  Cohen reportedly thought so as well and was offended.  According to director Aldrich, Steiger’s character had characteristics from Cohen as well as other studio heads.  Examples include: crying to get a star to sign (Louis B. Mayer) and wearing a hearing aide (Howard Hughes).

Clifford Odets play The Big Knife ran for over 100 performances, was directed by Lee Strasberg, and starred John Garfield as Charles Castle.  Garfield was scheduled to star, but died before the film was made.  Shelley Winters dedicated her performance to John Garfield.

The Big Knife (1955) rates 4 of 5 stars.