The Big Knife (1955): Bore me deadly

The Big Knife (1955)

The Big Knife is labelled a film noir by some.  I don’t see it myself. Rather an overwrought pot-boiler.

A  melodrama about Hollywood that out-melodramas Hollywood.  Cloister an ensemble of A-list actors in a Hollywood bungalow with maverick-director Robert Aldrich, all singing from an operatic song-sheet courtesy of a play from Clifford Odets, with some snappy camera moves, amidst the hot-house boundaries of a posh living room, and the histrionics hit the roof.

Jack Palance a contract actor for an exploitative b-studio was once a young man with ideals.  He is now a middle-aged drunkard and Lothario who still loves his estranged wife – an aging Ida Lupino who at all times seems rather lost and discomfited.  She will only come back if he junks his career by refusing to sign a new contract pushed on to him by literally insane studio boss Rod Steiger.  Wendell Corey a modern-day Iago is spin-artist to Steiger, and a man happy to contrive a murder to keep the lid on a damaging back-story.

Filmed with a flatness and harsh lighting that washes out any nuance or ambivalence, the players are left to strut their stuff with exaggerated gestures and contrived rhetoric.  The picture may just as well have played as a radio soap.  It is hard to conceive that the same director had just completed the great Kiss Me Deadly. One of the rare occasions I can agree with the NY Times’ Bosley Crowther, who on the film’s release saw “a group of sordid people jawing at one another violently”.