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The Big Knife

The Big Knife(1955)

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Movie star Charlie Castle is being pressured by studio owner Stanley Shriner Hoff to sign another seven-year contract, even though both Charlie and his estranged wife Marion are leery of the long-term commitment. The formerly idealistic Charlie is also weary of the exploitive films that Hoff produces, although he does enjoy his huge popularity. One morning, while Charlie is exercising with his trainer, Nicky Feeney, studio publicist Buddy Bliss stops by Charlie's Bel Air mansion to warn him that gossip columnist Patty Benedict will arrive soon. The powerful, acid-tongued Patty questions him about his separation from Marion, and although Marion is living at their beach house with their young son Billy, Charlie denies that they are separated. Patty then comments on Hoff having re-hired Buddy after he served ten months in jail for killing a child in a hit-and-run accident, in which Charlie had been implicated before Buddy confessed. Patty threatens to rake up the story again unless Charlie gives her the inside "scoop" on his marriage, but Charlie tells her to leave. As Patty is warning Charlie that he is being foolish, she is interrupted by Marion, who was in the house without Charlie's knowledge. Marion tells Patty to mind her own business, after which a frantic Buddy chases after Patty. Charlie chastises Marion for annoying Patty, and Marion complains that she is sick of the insincerity of their lives. Charlie asks Marion to come home, but Marion, unable to endure Charlie's infidelities, drinking and brooding, refuses. She also reveals that author Hank Teagle, one of Charlie's oldest friends, has proposed to her. Marion warns Charlie that although she did not accept Hank's proposal, she will never return to him if he signs Hoff's new contract, as she believes that the movie business has destroyed his integrity. Charlie protests, as he knows that Hoff will never let his biggest star go. Charlie admits to having made a mistake "that night," and Marion, who still loves her husband, states that she should have been more supportive. Urging Charlie to fight, Marion agrees to move back in and goes to pack. Charlie is then visited by his agent, Nat Danziger. Although Charlie tells Nat that he will lose his family if he signs the contract, Nat assures him that Marion will understand, and warns him that Hoff and his right-hand man, Smiley Coy, are coming. When Smiley and the tyrannical Hoff arrive, Charlie tells them he is reluctant to sign. Hoff offers Charlie a vacation but is rebuffed, and so menacingly reminds Charlie of the times he has fixed problems for him, including a "certain night in this very living room." Charlie pleads with Hoff, but finally, worn down by his threats, signs the contract. After the three men leave, Marion calls, but hangs up when Charlie confesses that he gave in. A few days later, Buddy's alcoholic, sluttish wife Connie comes to Charlie's and reveals she knows that Charlie was the drunken driver who killed the child, and that Hoff arranged for Buddy to confess to prevent Charlie's career from being ruined. Although Charlie, who treasures Buddy's friendship, asks Connie to leave, she follows him upstairs when he retires. A few days later, Charlie visits Marion and asks her to attend a dinner party he is hosting for Buddy. Marion agrees to attend with Hank, and that night, after Buddy and Connie leave, Charlie and Hank reminisce about their young, idealistic days in New York. Charlie and Hank quarrel over Hank's proposal to Marion, and after Hank departs with Marion, he tells her that she has to decide which man she really wants. Charlie then prepares for bed but is interrupted by Smiley, who tells him that Dixie Evans, a studio contract player who was with Charlie on the night of the accident, has been talking about it. Smiley urges Charlie to be nice to Dixie, who worships him, and so Charlie invites her over. Dixie is thrilled to see Charlie, but complains bitterly about the studio using her to entertain visiting exhibitors rather than giving her a real break as an actress. Charlie asks Dixie not to talk about the accident, as it could hurt him, but Dixie assures him that she only wants to make the studio heads as miserable as they have made her. Their conversation is interrupted by Marion, and Dixie quickly leaves. Marion assumes that she interrupted an incipient affair, although Charlie pleads his innocence. The couple begins quarreling again, and Charlie rages that he can no longer stand Marion's judgmental attitude, and instead needs her to love him as he is. Relenting, Marion stays the night. A few days later, when Charlie returns home from posing for publicity stills at the studio, Smiley is waiting for him. Smiley informs him that Hoff had summoned Dixie to his office, and that when she finally arrived, drunk, an enraged Hoff beat her. Dixie then left for a bar, and Smiley asks Charlie to lure Dixie to her apartment, where "doctored" gin has been prepared. Charlie is then to return to the studio, which will provide him with the alibi of having been posing for stills all day. Charlie is horrified that Smiley proposes murdering Dixie, who has continued to needle Hoff about the accident. When Marion comes downstairs, Charlie asks her to summon Nat, while he calls Hoff, demanding that he come over. When the men arrive, they tell Charlie that he misunderstood Smiley's intentions, but Charlie accuses Hoff of soliciting murder. Despite her shock at learning that Dixie was with Charlie during the accident, Marion supports him. Smiley suggests that the only other way to "take care of" Dixie is for Charlie to marry her, and states that he has taped proof of Marion having a love affair with Hank. Smiley brings in the recordings, but Charlie, believing in Marion, breaks the records in half. Charlie orders Hoff and Smiley to leave, and when Hoff merely laughs, Charlie rushes toward him. Fearing that Charlie is going to hit him, Hoff covers his face, and a scornful Charlie slaps his head. Humiliated, Hoff screams that he will reveal the truth about Charlie's accident and that Charlie will be ruined. After Smiley and Hoff leave, Marion and Charlie comfort each other and call Hank, who they believe can offer them advice. Suddenly, Buddy rushes in and tearfully reveals that Connie told him about her affair with Charlie. Buddy spits in Charlie's face and leaves, after which a quiet Charlie pledges Marion that she will have a better future. While Charlie is upstairs taking a bath, Smiley returns and informs Marion that Dixie was run over by a city bus after she left the bar. Marion is castigating Smiley for his behavior when they notice water seeping through the ceiling. Hank arrives as Nicky, Smiley and Russell, the butler, break down the bathroom door and discover that Charlie has committed suicide by slashing his wrists. Smiley calls the studio to issue a press release that Charlie died of a heart attack, but Hank, determined not to let his friend's anguish be covered up, states that he will tell the press the truth.