The Big Knife

A compelling and vicious film noir about the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, directed by the great Robert Aldrich

Film Review by Michael Jaconelli | 14 Sep 2017
Film title: The Big Knife
Director: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Jack Palance, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters, Ida Lupino, Everett Sloane
Release date: 28 Aug
Certificate: PG

After directing Kiss Me Deadly, his ferocious and mysterious 1955 thriller, Robert Aldrich began adapting this play from Clifford Odets about the dark heart of the movie business. The resulting noir, The Big Knife, carries much of the same hellish intensity as that previous work. We're introduced to Charles Castle (a commanding Jack Palance), who's one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars. From the outside Castle appears to have it all, but his long-suffering wife is threatening to leave him if he renews his contract with studio boss Stanley Shriner Hoff (a Mephistophelean turn by Rod Steiger) and he has grown weary with his Hollywood lifestyle. Faced with a decision, Castle’s seemingly perfect existence begins to crumble around him as the artifice of his life is slowly exposed.

From its nightmarish Saul Bass opening title sequence – which sees Jack Palance writhing in torment with his hands clasped about his head – to its bleak finale, Aldrich pulls few punches in exposing the rotten innards of Hollywood. Despite its qualities, Aldrich's film can’t fully escape its theatrical origins, however, playing out largely in Castle’s increasingly cage-like Beverly Hills home and with dialogue that occasionally veers into pretentiousness and overt theatricality. The film's tragic denouement doesn’t entirely convince either, but despite all this The Big Knife is still a powerful depiction of a man who sold his soul for fame and fortune – and of one who came to regret it all too late.


The usual trailers feature alongside a commentary by film critics Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton recorded exclusively for the release. There's also an interesting documentary from 1972 with Saul Bass about some of his classic film title work. [Michael Jaconelli]

Released by Arrow Video