Day Seven of Noirvember: The Big Knife (1955)

Not your typical noir, The Big Knife focuses on screen star Charlie Castle (Jack Palance), who’s in the center of a maelstrom – his dictator-like studio head, Stanley Hoff (Rod Steiger), is pressuring him into signing another seven-year contract; his beloved, estranged wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), wants to reunite, but also wants Charlie to leave Hollywood; and Charlie’s harboring a number of secrets, including his involvement in a hit-and-run accident that killed a child, and his brief affair with the wife of his press agent. Based a Clifford Odets play, the film doesn’t contain such standard noir elements as mercenary femmes fatales or shadowy, rain-swept streets, but it’s noirishly dark nonetheless, steered by shady, objectionable characters and dire circumstances that lead to an unusually grim conclusion. The film’s stellar cast includes Everett Sloane, Shelley Winters, Jean Hagen, and Wendell Corey.

Hoff and Coy.

Favorite character:

In a film practically overflowing with unlikable characters, my favorite has to be Stanley Hoff, who is so mean-spirited, so overbearing, so callous, he simply becomes larger than life. Admittedly, Steiger does a bit of scenery chewing in his portrayal of this repugnant leader, but there’s no denying the character’s fascination factor.

When we first meet Stanley, he’s paying a house call to Charlie, in a personal-touch effort to secure his signature on the contract. He enters the home accompanied by his ever-present lackey – the oddly monikered Smiley Coy (Corey) – with his piercing eyes shuttered by dark sunglasses and spouting deceptive pleasantries that include admiring Charlie’s bathrobe, inviting the actor to join him in a day at the local racetrack, and expressing his oh-so-sincere hope for Charlie’s reconciliation with his wife.

Hoff really wants to keep these two far apart.

But once those banal topics are covered, Hoff doesn’t waste a single second in broaching the subject of Charlie’s contract, employing every weapon in his arsenal to secure the desired signature. Hoff first waxes nostalgic about the “vitality of talent” that he recognized in the actor at their initial meeting years earlier. Then he shares a lengthy personal story about his wife to illustrate his belief that “the woman must stay out of her husband’s work when he earns her bread and butter.” And finally, when these fail to do the trick, he uses good old-fashioned blackmail.

It’s quite masterful, really.

Favorite quote:

“Please, you’ll excuse me for speaking with my eyes closed, but it helps me to see better.” – Stanley Hoff (Rod Steiger)

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 7, 2017.

6 Responses to “Day Seven of Noirvember: The Big Knife (1955)”

  1. It was this movie that made me never want to see Rod Steiger in anything ever again.

    • Was it his performance or his character? Or both?

      • Both, I guess, and more. He seemed to embody it as a person, and I knew I couldn’t escape seeing it again every time he was on the screen. The same thing happened to me with John Malkovich. I think it was in some Sam Sheppard filmed play. The awfulness of the character creeped into the real person and, for me at least, would never creep out.

  2. Too much emoting for me!

  3. I’ve never really had that happen because of a movie role (although I do feel “some type of way” about Jennifer Jones now because of her off-screen break-up with Robert Walker), but I had a friend whose mother could never watch Robert Mitchum again after seeing him in Night of the Hunter!

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