The Big Knife by Clifford Odets

Dramatic Acting in the Play The Big Knife


The play The Big Knife written by Clifford Odets and directed by Robert Aldrich is mainly revolved around the character Charlie Castle. Charlie is presented to the audience as a successful Hollywood actor living an admirable person, though his life begins to falter when he is in the dilemma of his wife leaving him and having to refuse the renewing of his seven acting year contract, which makes his boss furious. In order to make Charlie renew the contract, Stanley Hoff, the boss, and his right-hand man Smiley coy a plan to blackmail Charlie using a hit-and-run accident that he had some time back (Dixon, 1993). Charlie is tortured by the desire to retain his wife who has already been proposed to by Hank Teagle and the need to be free. Eventually, he signs the contract because the blackmail is too persuasive. While in this trouble, he gets into a fling with his friend’s wife. To protect this from getting out, Hoff and Smiley permanently silence Dixie Evans. Having lost the woman he loved and betraying a friend in addition to losing his dignity, Charlie commits suicide.

Characters and Their Acting

One aspect that the audience cannot fail to appreciate is the impeccable acting skills of the cast. The actors are totally amazing; their acting is palpably real. One can easily figure out and flow with the story based on their body movements and gestures. In fact, they acted in such a way that they could convey emotions to the extent that the audience tangibly felt their sentiments (Cousins, 2002). The actors were also appropriately groomed. Their costumes and artist makeup fitted the genre perfectly. They portrayed the lavish life the actors lived. The lighting of the scenes is appreciable together with the varying sound effects that describe the nature of the scenes. In my opinion, the actor’s diction is amazing. In my watching of the play, I could clearly hear the words they uttered without struggling.


The lavish setting of the play pulled it out. This is because it represents that actual life lived by successful actors just like Charlie. The actors wear expensive clothes and conduct themselves like people bred in a castle (The Big Knife, 2013). This complements the earlier description about Charlie being a successful and wealthy actor. However, looking deeply at this production, it was an actual representation of how the Hollywood film industry was back in the 1950s. The Big Knife clearly displays the vituperative and angry incidents of professionals in Hollywood at the time, and their power and money-hungry bosses who stopped at nothing to make sure they retained their best actors. They did this without putting into consideration the personal life of their precious actors, a factor that led to their total destruction, as in this case, death. Charlie Castle was a representation of many successful actors in Hollywood at the time. Many of them had their life mingled with unknown crimes and deception of both marital partners and friends (Cousins, 2002).

The flow of the play is as coherent at the theater as it is on paper. It is not easy to figure out what comes in the next scene, yet it becomes easy and entertaining once the audience gets there (The Big Knife, 2013). The actors keep the audience’s desire to finish the story intact until they arrive at an unexpected death of Charlie, the main actor.


Dixon, W. W. (1993).The Early Film Criticism of François Truffaut. Bloomington U.A.: Indiana Univ. Press.
Cousins, M. (2002). Scene by Scene: Film Actors and Directors Discuss Their Work. London: Laurence King.
Odets, C. (1976). The Big Knife. New York: Dramatists Play Service.
The Big Knife (2013). The Big Knife Preview. Retrieved from Retrieved on 5/10/13.