Bel Air. The well-manicured area of LA where the successful actors, producers and directors in Hollywood live. So says the opening voice-over.
Jack Palance, not the obvious choice for a leading man (& director Robert Aldrich's lame excuse for the film's box office failure) has never been better, nor has he had such a meaty role. His portrayal of pent-up anger and frustration is powerful yet still believable.
He's the washed up star who's unravelling at the seams, wrestling with a dark secret and Rod Steiger, complete with blonde hairdo as his studio manager who is out to keep a lid on bad publicity at all costs. He will stop at nothing at getting a new contract signed.
Ida Lupino is also extremely fine as Charles Castle's (Palance) wife. Their marriage is on the rocks and she pleads that Charles takes the rest that he desperately needs and to not sign. She won't go back to him otherwise. There's good support from tease Shelley Winters and as Charles' agent, Everett Sloane plus Wendell Corey as a ruthless producer.
Much of the action takes place in the Castle's vast living room, nodding to the theatrics of the original play by Clifford Odets.
This is a slow-burning, quite talky, intelligent character-led and well scripted study of Hollywood's mechanics - its layers of people. Not as flashy or melodramatic as some and certainly not as well known, but still directed with surety and skill. Today's viewer will have to adjust to the pace and style but that's easy and the rewards to those attuned can be high.
There's enough depth to the material for a second viewing, which helps bring out the characters even more vividly. The DVD's transfer is excellent, with no visible flaws, good contrast and very good sound, with just a hint of hiss at high volumes.