Release Date(s)1955 (September 5, 2017)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM/20th Century Fox (Arrow Academy)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
Based upon the play of the same name by Clifford Odets, The Big Knife is a scathing look at Hollywood politics set within the noir-ish world of the 1950s. Director Robert Aldrich, who was fresh off of the Mickey Spillane thriller Kiss Me Deadly, won the Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival for his work on the film. With almost unbearable tension and dynamite performances, particularly from Rod Steiger, The Big Knife’s indictment of the Hollywood system sketches a world where freedom is almost elusive and getting it is as easy walking into traffic. With cinematography by Ernest Laszlo and a screenplay by James Poe, the film was released in 1955 by United Artists to unfavorable reviews but earned almost three times its budget back at the box office.
Jack Palance stars as Charlie, an actor under contract by a tyrannical studio head named Stanley Hoff (Rod Steiger). Everything seems to be going well for Charlie, except that his marriage to Marion (Ida Lupino) isn’t exactly peachy. She wants him out of the motion picture business for good, and when he attempts to try and retire, Hoff isn’t happy about it. He’s willing to do anything to keep Charlie on the payroll by blackmailing him, or even murdering those who oppose him. The film also includes performances by Shelley Winters, Jean Hagen, and Everett Sloan.
Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray release of The Big Knife is an enormous upgrade over the previous MGM DVD release, which was full screen with noticeable film damage leftover. Taken from a recent 2K restoration of the film’s fine grain positive element, the film’s debut in high definition is excellent. Maintaining healthy and stable grain levels, the images are much sharper with stronger detail. Even objects in the background appear more precise, while foreground elements, especially skin textures and costumes, are abundantly solid. Both black and white levels are lightened slightly by the thickness of the grain, while grayscaling offers nice delineation, particularly in regards to shadow detail. Contrast levels are virtually perfect and there appears to be no evidence of digital enhancements, nor is there any major leftover damage to report. The sole audio track provided on this release is an English mono LPCM track. Although it’s mostly narrow, it’s crisp and clean with good dialogue reproduction and sound effects, as well as a potent score. There are no prevalent hiss-related issues or damaged spots to be heard either. It’s quite a nice transfer, all said and done. There are also subtitles provided in English SDH if necessary.
[Author’s note: Apparently this Blu-ray release is also missing at least one minute of footage, which was present on the previous MGM DVD but somehow not included here. There has been no confirmation from Arrow Video about this as of yet, but we will definitely update this review to reflect that if and when they do.]
For the supplements, all that the previous MGM DVD offered was a theatrical trailer. On this release, you get a new audio commentary with film critics Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton; the Bass on Titles documentary, which features an interview with Saul Bass from 1977; a TV promo for the film; its theatrical trailer; and a 40-page insert booklet with film essays by Nathalie Morris and Gerald Peary, as well as restoration details. It’s a fine package for the film overall.
- Tim Salmons