The Curator of Schlock #348 by Jeff Shuster

The Big Knife

Serious movie time!

So Big Tom had a heart attack. The doctor says he’s forbidden from trucking for the next six months. That means there’s no one to deliver that fancy canning equipment for that ready-to-eat salmon salad canning factory up in Saskatchewan. No one except for me. That’s right. Edwige and I are taking a road trip up to Canada. Granted, I’ve only observed Big Tom driving a truck. I’ve never taken the wheel myself. What could go wrong?

This week’s Arrow Home Video release is 1955’s The Big Knife from director Robert Aldrich. This is a bit higher class than the typical movies we cover here, but I will persevere somehow. I should warn you that The Big Knife is based on the play The Big Knife by Clifford Odets. I can always tell when a movie is based on a play. You’ve got few sets and a lot of dialogue. I always ask myself why I’m watching this on the screen when I could be watching it on the stage.

We’ve got an incredible cast of Hollywood stars of the era like Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger, and Shelly Winters. As for the play—I mean movie—it’s another American tragedy deal. Don’t get me wrong. I love American tragedies. Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge is one of my favorites. What do you want from me? I grew up in the New York Metropolitan area where theatre is everything.

Jack Palance stars as Charlie Castle, a big Hollywood movie star living in the lap of luxury. Wine, women, and song are at his fingertips, but the only thing he wants in this world is his wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), who has separated from him due to all his drinking and womanizing. She’ll come back to him, but only if he doesn’t sign another contract with Stanley Hoff (Rod Steiger), the head of the studio. Charlie promises Marion he won’t sign, but we all know he will.

You see, it seems that Charlie had a bit of a drunk driving accident a few years back. While he was sloshed, he ran hit and killed some poor girl. His good friend, Buddy Bliss (Paul Langton), took the rap for the hit and run because he thinks the world of Charlie and didn’t want his career to go down the toilet. You know, I don’t care how good a friend someone is, you don’t go to jail for him. Sucker. Later in the movie, Charlie will get seduced by Buddy’s wife, Connie (Jean Hagen), and sleep with her. Charlie has a darker nature, you see. Buddy is such a sucker.

Anyway, Charlie doesn’t want Marion to leave him for good and he’s also tired of making schlock movies for the studio. But Stanley suggests that he should sign a contract with him as he’s privy to several of Charlie’s dark secrets. Charlie agrees to sign on for seven more years of financial security. I feel terrible for him. Perhaps I should bad for Dixie Evans (Shelly Winters), a struggling young starlet that was in the car with Charlie the night of the accident. And Dixie is threatening to blab to the press if the studio doesn’t give her a plumb role. I’m sure everything in Charlie’s life will work out fine. I’m sure it won’t end in tears.


Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443, episode 444, and episode 450) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.