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Friday, February 12, 2010

THE BIG KNIFE (1955)

Clifford Odets’ purple-prose poison-pen letter to Hollywood was a quick flop on B’way in ‘49 with John Garfield, yet helmer Robert Aldrich barely touched the script when he filmed it. The juicy plot shows the dire consequences that follow when a big movie star tries to opt out of his new 7-year contract. He thinks his show of independence might fix his crumbling marriage, rejuvenate his artistic ideals, decalcify his dormant talent & salve his immortal soul. What has life in Bel Air done to this boy? Of course, we know he’ll capitulate since his tantrum-wielding studio boss (and just about everyone else) knows all about that felony-sized skeleton hanging in the star’s closet. And that includes the women who can’t help but throw their lovely bodies in his . . . er, face. Early Odets is getting a welcome second-look these days, but this over-scaled late work is just out to settle scores, and comes off like a parody of his best work. (It's even lost the kick it once had as an inside job since Hollywood had changed so radically since the play first opened.) Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters, Everett Sloane, Jean Hagen & Wendell Corey lead the starry cast, but they all carry on as if they’re at a Method Acting workshop. Physically, Palance is mighty imposing, he simply towers over everyone which lends a certain distinction, but not when Odets stinks up the joint with choice aphorisms like, ‘Half-idealism is the peritonitis of the soul.’ And he’s got dozens of ‘em.

CONTEST: Shelley Winters would repeat her flamboyant (if off-screen) exit in another film role. Name the role & the film to receive our prize, a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of any NetFlix DVD.

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