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The Playgoer

At the Shubert

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

About ten years ago, Clifford Odets, having apparently written himself out of the Bronx, went to Hollywood. This was a cause for dismay among the people who hailed him as the Golden Boy of the Thirties, the man who brought a fresh, now and vibrant voice to the theater, a voice that spoke out for the underprivileged. But the author of "Waiting for Lefty," "Awake and Sing," and "Golden Boy" remained in Hollywood, writing scenarios and letting out an occasional yelp about "every motion-picture being cut on the stone floor of a Wall Street bank." This was paltry assurance of his continued concern with the proletariat.

Well now Clifford has come out of the West with a new play called "The Big Knife." With it, he takes some vicious slashes at the guts of his former paymasters. He says nothing new, but he has not lost his touch in saying it in a startling way. Every Odets line has the impact, and sometimes the serewiness, of a tabloid headline. Perhaps his characters aren't real. Perhaps they are. Clifford Odets is real. He is the star of the show.

Charlie Castle worked his way through college, got on Broadway where critics called him "The Van Gogh of the American Stage" because he acted with a "kind of Christian fervor." Then Charlie went out to Hollywood where he became the biggest star in pictures. He marries a girl he loves, who loves him, and whom he admires because she's of the landed aristocracy.

But then something happens to Charlie and their marriage. He gets to thinking where it's all leading, fed-up with the hypocrisy and inward rottenness of the moguls out there who cut out, like cookies, America's culture, morality, and dreams. So he tries to leave Hollywood but can't, because he once killed someone and might be exposed by the studio.

"The Big Knife" is first-class melodrama, a thing that turns up too infrequently. After a poor opening scene, the situation becomes engrossing and before the end the spectator is likely to be on the edge of his seat. The ending itself is in the best Odets fashion and couldn't have been more powerful had Leo the lion devoured the hero on stage. If Mr. Odets primary purpose was to expose, in his own way, the minds that govern the film industry, he has succeeded. Marcus Hoff, of Hoff Interprises, and his henchman, very ably played by J. Edward Bromberg and Paul McGrath respectively, are two characters not likely to be forgotten.

But with the main characters, Charlie and his wife, it is difficult to know where you are. As the play progresses Charlie's speeches take on the appearance of a groping philosophy but just what it is is never clear. Perhaps that muddleness is what Odets intended. There certainly are people like Charlie, people who have done some reading, adopted some ideals and then become confused when they couldn't make them work. But most of the time Charlie sounds like he's crossed Winchell with Shakespeare with disastrous results. John Garfield makes a very good Charlie.

"The Big Knife" will probably get some needed whetting during the next two weeks and possibly the deletion of some superflous Odetean spokesmen. It is good Odets now, brash, excessive, spelling out hell for Hollywood in neon.

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