Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Big Knife

This being Oscar night, TCM is showing several movies about making the other side of the acting business. One that's interesting, if not necessarily great, is The Big Knife, airing at 10:15 PM ET.

Jack Palance plays Charles Castle. He's an actor who's been successful playing matinee-idol types, and the studio loves this because it brings in a lot of money for them. Castle isn't so sure he wants to keep playing such roles, and wants to do more "serious" stuff. Meanwhile, he's got a wife (Ida Lupino) who would be just as happy if he'd just leave Hollywood so that they can have a more normal life.

Into this comes producer Stanley Hoff (Rod Steiger), who presents another problem for Castle. Hoff wants Castle to up with the studio for another seven years, and is willing to do almost anything to get Castle to agree. This includes blackmail, as the studios knew quite a lot about the dark secrets of their actors back in those days. Those secretes here include relationships with actresses Jean Hagen and Shelley Winters.

To be honest, it's an interesting idea, but it doesn't quite live up to expectations. It's all based on a stage play by Clifford Odets, and the result is a movie that comes across as stagey, as most of the action takes place in one room of Charlie Castle's house. That, and it's Clifford Odets, who was never very subtle in getting his point across in his plays. The actors try, but don't really succeed. Still, it's interesting to see Palance, who had previously generally played heavies, trying to extend his range by playing a more sympathetic lead. Ida Lupino is good as always, as is Shelley Winters.

The Big Knife has been released to DVD.

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