Robert Aldrich’s BIG KNIFE is a heavy handed noir look at Hollywood studio system. Its an insider’s look at corruption, lust, and cover-ups. The men and women swoon around box office bruiser, Charlie Castle, played by Jack Palance. And Castle is up to his neck in it.
The plot is a slow peeling onion of lies and intrigue – which all begins with Charlie Castle wants out of his exclusive contract with corrupt and shady, Stanley Shriner Hoff (played by Rod Steiger). While Castle continuously drinks himself into a stupor, his estranged wife, his agent, the film studio’s goon, a parade of loose women, and finally, Shelley Winters thunder across the stage. Each brings with them new, damning revelations about the misdeeds of Castle. The same sins that lock him in with the sleazy, bottom dealing Hoff.
Jack Palance may be the star of this picture, it is Rod Steiger that eats the scenery out from under him. Steiger rages, twirls, and swoons as he ham-fistedly beats his cash cow leading man into submission. It is this tension between boss and employee, patron and artist, that underpin the danger and tragedy of the plot.
And the women. The long suffering, underused, and exploited women who are chased after and thrown aside at the mere whim of powerful men. Shelley Winters steals her scenes, burning with a carelessness and drunk intensity that will end up being her hallmarks.
A bit over-long, especially, in the third act, THE BIG KNIFE manages to illustrate the downfall of man very well.