(director/writer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; screenwriter: from the play by William Shakespeare; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: John Dunning; music: Miklós Rózsa; cast: Marlon Brando (Marc Antony), James Mason (Brutus), John Gielgud (Cassius), Louis Calhern (Julius Caesar), Edmond O’Brien (Casca), Greer Garson (Calpurnia), Deborah Kerr (Portia), George Macready (Marullus), Michael Pate (Flavius), Richard Hale (Soothsayer), Alan Napier (Cicero), Douglas Watson (Octavius Caesar); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Houseman; MGM; 1953)
“A terrific Hollywood version of a Shakespeare play.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A terrific Hollywood version of a Shakespeare play. It’s loaded with a star-filled cast that has Marlon Brando playing Marc Anthony, James Mason plays the moral Brutus, Louis Calhern brilliantly plays a delicately superstitious but arrogant Julius Caesar and John Gielgud distinguishes himself as the crafty Cassius (this was his Hollywood debut). Marlon Brando is in his fourth film and proves to the doubters that he can act without slurring his words, if that’s what the part calls for. Joseph L. Mankiewicz is dutiful to the poet’s words and films in a straightforward manner; he also aims to get the bard’s rhythms correct rather than shooting for excitement. The still camera offers no trick shots, as it allows all attention on the performances. To save MGM some dough, since Shakespearean films rarely do well in the box-office, Mankiewicz recycles the Roman sets from Quo Vadis. This two million dollar vehicle, a low-budget for an epic, did surprisingly well in the box-office and received lots of praise among the critics. In this abbreviated version of Julius Caesar, the emphasis is on the political intrigues involving the noble senators.
The film opens in 44 BC as Julius Caesar returns to Rome from his victory over Pompey and to the accolades of the masses who view him as immortal and want to crown him as an emperor, which he refuses. Upset over Caesar’s powerful position are a number of senators led by Cassius and a more introspective Brutus, who is one of Caesar’s favorite politicians and is second in command. They meet in Brutus’s house and conspire to assassinate Caesar and free Rome from his tyranny, fearing his need for absolute power will stymie their freedoms. The first sign of trouble that comes to Caesar’s attention is when a blind soothsayer warns him “to beware the Ides of March.” The next sign of danger comes from his faithful wife Calpurnia’s (Greer Garson) dream of his bloody demise. She warns him not to go to the Senate that day, but a senator sent to retrieve him reinterprets the dream and eases Caesar’s mind. Caesar is so filled with pride, that he is only too anxious to receive the praises and honors from his followers in the Senate.
After the conspirators repeatedly stab Caesar to death in front of the statue to Pompey in the Senate, Marc Antony pretends to side with Brutus and arranges with him that each speak to the crowd at the funeral. In front of the steps to the Senate, Brutus easily sways the crowd to his side by relating his reasons for the assassination were over how ambitious a man Caesar has become and how his actions are based on patriotism because he loved Rome more than he did his beloved Caesar. Marc Antony, Caesar’s right-hand man and closest friend, mocks Brutus’s reasons as self-serving. He wins the crowd over by showing them how much Caesar loved them. When the crowd turns on the conspirators, Marc Antony and the young adopted son of Caesar, Octavius, divide their power and Antony’s powerful army successfully hunts down the conspirators.
The film was shot in B&W photography. This superb version could have been even greater if it utilized a more aggressive cinematic approach to certain scenes. This is especially true in the concluding battle scene at the Battle of Philippi, which appears leaden.
REVIEWED ON 8/9/2004 GRADE: A https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/