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The Big Knife
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Commentary by film critics Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton, recorded exclusively for this release
  • Bass on Titles - Saul Bass, responsible for The Big Knife's credit sequence, discusses some of his classic work in this self-directed documentary from 1972
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Nathalie Morris

The Big Knife

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Robert Aldrich
1955 | 111 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: Arrow Academy
MVD Visual

Release Date: September 12, 2017
Review Date: September 18, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

Mere months after delivering one of the definitive examples of film noir with Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich brought a noir flavor to Hollywood with his classic adaptation of Clifford Odets' stage play, The Big Knife. Charles Castle, one of Hollywood's biggest stars, looks like he has it all. But his marriage is falling apart and his wife is threatening to leave him if he renews his contract. Studio boss Stanley Shriner Hoff isn't taking the news too well, and he'll do anything he can to get his man to sign on the dotted line - even if means exposing dark secrets... Winner of the Silver Lion at the 1955 Venice Film Festival, The Big Knife also boasts a remarkable cast list including Jack Palance (Shane) as Castle and Rod Steiger (On the Waterfront) as Hoff, plus Shelley Winters (The Night of the Hunter), Ida Lupino (On Dangerous Ground), Jean Hagen (Singin' in the Rain) and Everett Sloane (Citizen Kane).


PICTURE

Robert Aldrichís adaptation of Clifford Odetsí stage play The Big Knife comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow through their Academy line. The film has been given an all new 2K restoration, scanned from an original 35mm fine-grain positive and is presented in its original aspect ratio of about 1.85:1. It has been encoded at 1080p24hz on this dual-layer disc.

Since the film has been restored by Arrow it came as no surprise to find the film looking quite incredible here, though not without a few minor short-comings. Most of the issues remaining appear to be source related, like a handful of bits of dirt and debris scattered about. There are also a few quick shots that look a little softer than others and a few where contrast levels, which are otherwise spot on, seem to be boosted a bit.

Film grain can also be a little bit of an issue, at times anyways. The film looks very grainy, surprisingly so, and the opening and a handful of other places look a bit off in its rendering, almost as though the image was sharpened a bit, creating a mosquito noise effect. A majority of the film looks fine on the other hand, with grain looking more natural.

As to the overall digital presentation outside of those minor issues it looks rather wonderful. The image is sharp and detail levels are incredible, to the point where you can clearly make out fine patterns and stitching on clothing. As mentioned before contrast levels look solid a majority of the time, with superb tonal shifts in the gray scale. In all itís a stunner of a presentation.

(As a note there have been reports online that a few minutesí worth of footage is missing from the film in this edition. I rented the film on DVD once through Netflix years ago and admittedly canít recall if this is the case and donít own the old DVD to confirm.)

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film comes with a lossless PCM 2.0 monaural track. Itís a talky film but dialogue is clear and fidelity manages to be surprisingly good. Unfortunately there is still some evident background noise and I noticed a few pops throughout the film, as well as an edge to the filmís music.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

We donít get a packed special edition for the film but I was still pleased with what Arrow has managed to put together here. The big addition is a new audio commentary featuring Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton. After a humourous start (apparently Pinkertonís car was just towed away) the two get down to business, talking about Aldrichís diverse career, Odetsí original play and how it is adapted here, and offering a backstory to the filmís production and the hiccups it met along the way. The two also talk about the Hollywood studio system of the time to give context to the story (and also bring up appropriate Coen brother films Barton Fink and Hail Caesar!) and then share their thoughts on the film and specific scenes as the film progresses. Itís a very quick and incredibly dense track, and though I suspect theyíre working off of either notes or possibly a script (you hear pages shuffle about steadily throughout) the conversation feels organic and the two work wonderfully together covering the vast amount of information in a very concise manner. Itís an engaging and rich audio commentary, and one I highly recommend listening to.

Saul Bass designed the opening titles for this film so Arrow next includes a 1977 short documentary called Bass on Titles, put together by Bassí on film company. The 34-minute piece features Bass sitting at a desk simply talking about his early graphic design work and then the idea of making some of those designs ďmoveĒ by applying his designs to the opening titles for films. He goes through the evolution of his title designs using a select number of sequences as examples (The Man with the Golden Arm, Seconds, Grand Prix, West Side Story, Walk on the Wild Side and a few more, which we actually get shown in their entirety), getting to a point where he would work the titles into the filmís actual narrative. Itís a rather fascinating overview of Bassí work by the man himself and itís a terrific find on Arrowís part.

The disc then closes with a couple of promo features. There is a 5-minute television promo filmed on the set of the film, featuring the actors talking about the film with a few clips and behind-the-scene sequences. Itís nothing more than a commercial but I still liked it for its time capsule charms. The disc then closes with the filmís theatrical trailer. We then get a rather lengthy booklet featuring an excellent essay on the film by Nathalie Morris, followed by a reprint of a Sight & Sound article on Odetsí career in Hollywood by Gerald Peary.

Itís definitely not a packed edition but the great material we do get doesnít leave one wanting and manages to cover just about every aspect of the film.

7/10

CLOSING

Arrow puts together a strong edition, delivering a sharp new presentation and some great scholarly supplements, including an excellent new commentary. Admirers of the film or Aldrich would do well to pick this one up.




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