Culture Magazine

Movie Review – The Big Knife (1955)

By Manofyesterday

Director: Robert Aldrich

Stars: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger, Wesley Addy, Paul Langton, Shelley Winters

Charles Castle (Palance) is a successful actor that has failed to hit the artistic heights of his early career. Motivated by his near-estranged wife Marion (Lupino), he engaged in a battle with the studio head (Steiger) but gets embroiled in a sinister web of betrayal and blackmail.

It’s quite surprising these types of movies get made considering how critical they are of the system. This is a converted stage play and it’s melodramatic, with all the actors surrendering themselves to the overblown emotions. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and the theme of corruption vs. idealism is interesting. There’s a bit of mystery too, about the hold that Hoff has over Castle, although I don’t think this was teased out as long as it could have been. Palance anchors the film and always seems on the verge of breaking down, while Lupino is good as the confused wife, torn between the man Castle used to be and the one he could be. The real scene-stealer is Steiger though, who commands the screen every time he’s on. He sometimes threatens to overact and become really campy but manages to reign himself in to remain sinister and terrible.

There’s a bit of a revolving cast as people come into and out of Castle’s home and he has to deal with them. Sometimes the pace drags a little bit but the high emotional drama kept me interested. The ending is predictable but I give it a pass because it ties in thematically with another part of the film, so it was mainly predictable because it was foreshadowed. It is overblown but it’s interesting to watch films like these as actors nowadays don’t have the same conditions. It’s entertaining enough to be worth a watch.

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