The Big Knife (1955)

“The Big Knife” (1955)


breathing space

By coincidence, I saw Carnage, the new Polansky, shortly after this one. Polansky is a master of small spaces, and moving inside them, and making them part of the dramatic fabric of the film. Space as drama, as metaphor, that’s one of the things that made me want to watch films seriously, one of the concepts dearer to me. Robert Aldrich is also a spatial man, a cinematic architect, who also considers and bends the space to take from it wherever he is making out of the material he is shooting. That’s specially well done in Kiss me Deadly, a must-see on many levels, but also here in this smaller film. Here we have filmed theater, a one set film. The first problem is that the set is a little bit studio like, and thus is more contrived, giving Aldrich less possibilities for breaking the camera angles and camera moves.

Shooting studio was norm, and had advantages, light control, etc, but the downfall proves bad for the kind of visual work that Aldrich liked to try. Well, it’s a little bit like Palance’s character, trapped inside his golden cage, living profitably at the expense of artistic compromise.

But this film is still a worthy experience. The text helps. The inner tensions of Charles Castle, mapped into Jack Palance’s own Method approach to acting. All that wrapped about the brilliant vision of Aldrich, supported by the also brilliant Laszlo, a fine cinematographer, we have such great films produced by his camera. This is a one space film, but also a one-man show. It’s all about how the environment mirrors how Palance reacts to the world. In that sense this is a kind of noir, in how he only reacts to the adversities, a pawn in an odd world, where he is the odd center. But this is not noir in the wider sense, in the definition that Ted applies to it, which i embrace. Ida Lupino was a clever artist, and she knows enough to support Palance’s act. She really helps. We tolerate Steiger’s excesses because his character is not too much exposed, but he does go over the top.

Anyway, stick to the camera, how it reacts to Palance. The characters movements, what’s usually defined as mise-en-scène, is remarkable in how it is reflected always in how the camera moves. This is something that started with Hitchcock’s Rope. Sidney Lumet toped this game with his Angry Men, but this is a sensible use of the camera in that respect.

My opinion: 3/5, a very pleasant minor work of a very fine director.

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