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Roscoe Lee Browne
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Charles Castle is a successful Hollywood actor who has opted for screen success over art. He must make critical decisions regarding his career, his marriage, his art & morality. In this screen adaptation of a Clifford Odets play, Castle is pressured by his studio boss and manipulated into a potentially murderous cover-up to protect his career. An indictment of the amoral world of 50's Hollywood and its corrosive effect upon the artist. Written by
The Realist, the Philistine and the Idealist....You figure it out.
There is very much room for debate on The Big Knife. The casting of Palance and Steiger, good 'ol whinny Winters, the stage-related lack of locales, etc., etc. Each of these can be parsed to illuminate why the film works or doesn't. In a way that's a sign of a good film, one that has made bold choices, and risks it's essential qualities. I liked it. The thing that stood out for me though, was the seeming-multiple-endings. About three times I felt an ending, only to have another character enter, another scene. This may be Odets the writer, or Aldrich the director. In any case I loved Palance. I am a fan of his, and in a lead, a somewhat straight lead, his casting is inspired. I felt he was emotionally resonant, quickly rising and falling with the clipped Odets' poetics. I watched it last night on TCM, and Robert Osborne remarked in the opening that this was a film about "weird people, Hollywood types" (paraphrase). I think that poorly sells the story, limiting it's scope and personality. Palance as Charlie Castle is a wreck because of his life in Hollywood, sure, but he isn't weird for it. His close relationships with his trainer/masseur and his publicist, among others, highlights his isolation and need for loving contact. Which makes Ida Lupino, as his possibly-leaving wife Marion, and her dilemma such a good parallel to Charlie's wanting to leave Hollywood. And Rod Steiger....Over the top? Yes. But it a beautiful thing to watch. I love his commanding physical presence, his melodramatic crying, his hand-wringing. It may be scene-chewing and distracting to some, but again, it works within the story and the character. His psychological make up is so apparent, especially when he fears Castle will strike him, how he crosses his arms and tucks in. Ida Lupino, who looks like she could be Stockard Channing's mother, was strong and poised despite her rancorous life, and I appreciated her for it. Her character was winning because of the strength she debated having to exert. Again, a Hollywood consequence. Character actors, one and all, Smiley, Connie, Shelley Winter's wonkie Dixie, Hank (who could be Grey Davis' father), Nat (his slapping of Stanley Hoff's glass was awesome) , they all embody the inherent lack of stability in Hollywood. The message is clear, and the execution (pardon the pun), was dramatic and interesting.
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