Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Big Knife (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Big Knife (1955)

In Robert Aldrich's cynical screen adaptation of Clifford Odets' 1949 stage play - a devastating and dark, film noirish, over-the-top look at Hollywood's ruthless search for fame and power:

  • the opening voice-over narration (uncredited Richard Boone): "This is Bel Air, the lush, luxurious retreat of the wealthy and powerful. If you work in the motion picture industry and are successful, this well-tended suburb of Hollywood is where you will probably make your home. Failure is not permitted here. Our story has to do with a 20th-century phenomenon. Name: Charlie Castle. Profession: movie star. Problem: survival. Charlie Castle is a man who sold out his dreams but he can't forget them"
  • the overheated story of actor Charles 'Charlie' Castle (Jack Palance), a philanderer and drinker who was struggling with his personal life, his estrangement from his idealistic wife Marion (Ida Lupino), and his compromised career as an actor in bad, exploitative films
  • Charlie was in the grip of domineering, tyrannical, blackmailing, white-crew-cutted studio boss Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod Steiger) and his slimy lawyer-assistant Smiley Coy (Wendell Corey) - in an opening sequence, he was being blackmailed into renewing his long-term 7-year contract (he was threatened with the revelation of his studio-covered-up drunken hit-and-run car-crash accident that killed a child); Hoff reminded Charlie of the murderous Faustian deal that had saved Castle's career: "You came to see me more than once....I was there for you and yours in the vexing problems that are so manifold in the heat and toil of the day. And then on a certain night in this very room, the law spelled scandal, I was there for you then too!"
  • the film's concluding downhill slide for the tortured Castle: his extra-marital affair with alcoholic Connie Bliss (Jean Hagen) - the slutty wife of Charlie's friend and studio publicist Buddy Bliss (who confessed and took the blame for Charlie's hit-and-run), and his relationship with contracted starlet Dixie Evans (Shelley Winters) who threatened to not keep quiet about her knowledge of the crash
Charlie's Extra-Marital Affairs
Connie Bliss
(Jean Hagen)
Dixie Evans
(Shelley Winters)
  • the later sequence of the despotic Hoff's second confrontation with Castle in the star actor's Bel Air mansion, when Charlie expressed how he was tired of being pressured by Hoff; the egotistical studio chief countered with a screaming tirade that he would reveal the truth about Charlie's accident and ruin him: "We know who the expert is when it comes to murder....A boy like you. Who are you? Who are you? Are you some kind of special aristocracy because the, the female public wants to make love with you? Who are you with your dirty, unmanicured fingernails. And what, what are you without Hoff Federated behind you? I built the studio! I, I with my brain and my hands! I ripped it out of the world, with my brains and my hands. And who are you?"
  • Hoff's studio even stooped to threaten to extort Marion by exposing secretly-recorded 'taped' conversations (on long-playing vinyl records) of her affair with Horatio 'Hank' Teagle (Wesley Addy); enraged by the thought, Charlie broke the records in two, and moved forward to strike Hoff, who defensively put his arms into an X posture in front of his face, as Charlie told him: "Ah, you're so lucky, yet if this were a movie, you'd have been on the floor ten times. (He lightly slapped Hoff across the forehead) It's just a small token" - as he was leaving, Hoff vowed he would reveal Charlie's crime: "I'll break you!...Nah, nah. I'll let the law do it for me. l'll let the law do it for me this time, and you lose everything. You lose everything. This is the scandal and a disaster and a ruin. And that dead child's family and the insurance company will take everything off your back in any court in the land. The clothes off your back, off your child, and off that woman. Everything goes, Charlie. Everything goes, the house goes, the paintings go, and you! You go! Oh no, Charlie. You threw away a kingdom today"
  • the fateful consequences of Charlie's resistance to the studio - the silencing-death of Dixie Evans (a city bus ran over her on Sunset Blvd.), and Charlie's own suicide in a hot bath in his upstairs bathroom by slashing his wrists (off-screen) - signaled by water leaking through the downstairs ceiling; Smiley called in a falsified news release for the press from the home phone in the Bel Air home: "Charlie Castle, reknowned star of 30 Hoff Federated Pictures, (Marion screamed) died today of a heart attack in his Bel Air home, at 7:55 Pacific Daylight Time. At his bedside was his physician Dr. Curley, his wife Marion, his 7 year-old son Billy, and his close friend and associate Stanley Shriner Hoff. Now get that out to the AP, UP, and the rest of the wire services. Don't ask questions! Bring a dozen studio cops when you come. This place is gonna be a madhouse in a minute. What? Tell Stanley he slashed himself in three places"
  • in the conclusion, Hank dismissed Smiley so he could handle the situation himself without another cover-up - and tell the truth: "I'll talk to the reporters...Your work is finished here. There will be no photographers, no more lies, no display. I'll tell the story. He killed himself out of the pain and anguished love he had for others, he gave up his salvation. But no man had a greater reverence for life, a greater zest for living. Yes, he was wrong. But he just couldn't go on hurting those he loved"
  • the film's final repeated words: Marion calling out as she hugged Charlie's coat and the camera pulled back to blackness: "Charlie! Charlie! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!"

Charlie Castle (Jack Palance) and Estranged Wife Marion (Ida Lupino)

Studio Boss Stanley Hoff (Rod Steiger)

Charlie's Confrontation With Hoff

Reporting Charlie's Upstairs Bathroom Suicide (Slashed Wrists)

Hank's (Wesley Addy) Epitaph for Charlie - The Truth

Marion's Final Words of Grief


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