An intelligent, haunting film full of wonderful performances, particularly from Jack Palance (never better) and Rod Steiger as, respectively, the successful movie star Charlie Castle, coming apart at the seams, and Stanley Hoff, the portly white-haired studio boss who wants to cover up the paranoia at any price and harries poor Charlie to death.
Charlie is a weakling. He is also a hit and run killer whose crime has been covered up by the studio and for which another (innocent) man has spent six years in prison. When Charlie balks at signing another long contract (in order to save his marriage) the studio pulls out “the big knife”.
Hoff pleads and fawns, flatters and intimidates. Using his dead-eyed hatchet man and “fixer”, Smiley (Wendell Corey) for the really dirty work, Hoff not only sickeningly humiliates the actor and his wife, but orders the murder of poor little contract player Dixie Evans (Shelly Winters) who was in the car with Charlie on the night of the accident and who has been drunkenly threatening to tell what she knows.
Ida Lupino is Marion, Charlie’s long-suffering wife; Jean Hagen is she-wolf Connie; Wesley Addy is the quiet writer, Hank; and Ilka Chase is gimlet-minded gossip columnist Patty.
Shot in 15 days and with limited studio or wardrobe changes, this is one of the more successful films that Hollywood has made about itself, blessed with a marvellously literate script from a play by Clifford Odets and able direction from Robert Aldrich.