Picks and Pans Review: American Playhouse: the Big Knife

updated 07/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Wed., July 20, 9 p.m. ET)


It is not perfect. Clifford Odets' 1949 Broadway play about Hollywood corruption-brought to the big screen in 1955 and to the small screen now—looks a little dated. Show business is no longer run by cigar chompers but by number crunchers, and that's what has changed: the appearance. The money, the power and the ethics, however, are all pretty much the same. Peter (The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial) Gallagher plays a golden-boy actor with a terrible secret. His studio boss (Nehemiah Persoff) knows that secret and thus holds Gallagher in lucrative slavery. The boss wants the star to sign a new contract, but the star's wife—played by the classy and undeservedly unknown Betsy (The Princess Bride) Brantley—wants him to leave Hollywood. It takes time for the confrontation to catch fire, but when it does, you have fine theatrical drama that shows off good writing, directing and acting without benefit of pretty locations. It's nice to see that on TV now and then. I just wish that Playhouse had more guts with its remakes. Earlier this season the series gave us a new Suspicion with the same flawed ending that was forced on Alfred Hitchcock in his original movie. Now comes Knife with the same look as the play and the movie. Why not at least update its appearance: Dress the studio boss not in blubber but in a tailored suit and a good tan.

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