The Big Knife (1955)

Cinematography Ernest Laszlo

The Big Knife is a 1955 film noir directed and produced by Robert Aldrich from a screenplay by James Poe based on the 1949 play by Clifford Odets. The film stars Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters, Ilka Chase, and Everett Sloane.

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Slightly better than average melodrama

20 November 2002 | by funkyfry (Oakland CA) – See all my reviews

A charged, stage-bound melodrama, with Palance as a movie star in servitude to the studio boss (Steiger) who’s blackmailing him. His wife (Lupino) won’t agree to live with him until he’s his own man again, which means not renewing his 7 year contract.

Palance does his best, but he’s not the kind of actor who can show a character going through real transitions and hold the audience’s attention for an entire film. Steiger is allowed to go over the top a few too many times, but Corey provides some of the film’s best moments as his more ruthless, and at the same time gentlemanly, henchman. Sloane provides an unusual characterization as a somewhat sissified agent.

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Ultimately, too cramped in its one room location (which may have been done deliberately to show the character’s isolation from the world, but still produced a stagey effect that bind the film too tightly).

Tremendously powerful movie

9/10
Author: inframan from the lower depths
24 July 1999

Jack Palance gives an amazing performance here in a part that so many other actors must have been dying to play. You can picture a lot of actors of the time – Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando – as Charlie Castle, but I can’t picture anyone as good as Palance. It’s a riveting movie from start top finish with one great line after another. Almost Shakespearean in breadth, depth & power.

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Inside Hollywood

7/10
Author: sol1218 from brooklyn NY
9 October 2003

A truly memorable film with tough and rugged, but hardly handsome, Jack Palance as Charlie Castle playing of all people an actor who’s always playing matinée Idols and great lovers. As Charlie’s boss and studio owner Stanley Hoff,Rod Steiger, says of him throughout the film :”He makes all the women of America heart’s swoon”. “The Big Knife” is worth the price of admission just to see how and if director Robert Aldrich can pull it off and make the film both entertaining and believable.

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You see Charlie is getting tired of playing all those roles over the years as a heart throb to the women of America and wants to get out of his contract with the Hoff Studios and go independent; That was a big thing for actors back in the 1950’s. Charlie wan’t to do films that are worthy of his extraordinary talents as a serious and Shakespearian actor. It’s that Charlie’s off the wall and possessive boss Stanley Hoff, the Big Knife, doesn’t want his meal ticket to leave and take his fans with him! So Stanley rolls out the heavy artillery and plays his trump card. It seems that Charlie has a dark secret that the studio has been covering up for years and if Charlie leaves that secret won’t be a secret any more! Get It Charlie!

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The film “The Big Knife” can really be described as one of the most multi storied soap operas ever put on film with the audience needing score cards just to keep up with the story and even then they’ll get lost. Whoever coined the phrase “Seeing is believing” must have based it on the the incredible performance of Rod Steiger’s Stanley Hoff which goes from a Saturday Night Live impersonation shtick of a big Hollywood producer to an Oscar winning interpretation of Hamlet all at the same time! It’s really incredible to watch and believe what your seeing in Steiger’s over the top performance.

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And Jack Palance, determined not to be shown up his co-star, really did pull it off in him Playing a role so out of character and yet evoking real and genuine sympathy from the audience that he should have, but didn’t, won the 1955 Academy Award for best actor hands down! As the tortured soul with a dark past who only wanted to do Art Films and get away from playing debonair and charming movie parts that make women go ape all over him. In the end of the film when Palance went all out, or was it underwater, in the final few minutes of the movie he was so convincing that I just couldn’t keep the tears from rolling down my cheeks!

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No matter how much people criticize Robert Aldrich’s “The Big Knife” and with good justification this is one movie where you can really say that the acting actually overwhelmed the script!

For collectors only…

5/10
Author: Mike Conrad (conono) from London
12 June 2007

Wow…overwrought, overacted, over-the-top melodrama trying ever-so-hard to be *about* something. But it’s really not about much, despite the putative ‘Corrupt-Hollywood’ theme. Just a series of intermittently-entertaining, scenery-chewing set pieces in a Bel-Air living room.

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A whole lot of talent wasted here–acting, writing, not so much directing. Fans of the film’s several excellent actors will survive this viewing more readily than others. Everyone’s finest chops–and then some–are on display, over and over, desperately in search of significance. Even the music is ridiculously overdone. “Pay attention! This is wrenching drama!” Only, it’s not.

“The Big Knife” reminds me of nothing so much as a lame stage play where shouting and noisemaking take the place of genuine dramatic tension. This whole mess was generously forgotten in a couple years, thanks to 1957’s vastly superior “Sweet Smell of Success” –check that one out instead.

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