review for The Big Knife on AllMovie

The Big Knife (1955)
by Michael Costello review

Robert Aldrich and Clifford Odets certainly would appear to be an odd couple, but the director does a fine job in translating the writer's work to the screen. Here it's Odets' work which seems more open to question, and despite some memorable dialogue and a top-notch cast, the film has a difficult time making the artistic integrity of a movie star a burning issue. As in the more successful Odets-scripted Sweet Smell of Success (1957), there's an echo of the smear tactics of the McCarthy era, but here the hysterical studio boss is a creature of melodramatic excess, less a character than a device to force the actor to face his past. More unsettling is the blandness of Wendell Corey's unctuous factotum; he's a poster boy for the banality of evil. Palance isn't bad, but with his limited vocal range and war-damaged features, it's difficult to accept him as either a major movie star or a tormented artist. The rest of the cast is excellent, particularly Shelley Winters in her turn as a frightened young actress. Aldrich hasn't done much to open the play up, but he's heightened its realism, shooting long takes in deep focus with available or minimal lighting.