SILVER CHALICE, THE (director: Victor Saville; screenwriters: Lesser Samuels/from the novel by Thomas B. Costain; cinematographer: William V. Skall; editor: George White; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Paul Newman (Basil), Virginia Mayo (Helena), Jack Palance (Simon), Pier Angeli (Deborra), Walter Hampden (Joseph ), Joseph Wiseman (Mijamin), Alexander Scourby (Luke), Lorne Greene (Peter), David J. Stewart (Adam), Herbert Rudley (Linus), Jacques Aubuchon (Nero), E.G. Marshall (Ignatius), Michael Pate (Aaron), Natalie Wood (Helena, as a girl), Ian Wolfe (Theron), Albert Dekker (Kester), Robert Middleton (Idbash); Runtime: 142; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lesser Samuels/Victor Saville; Warner Home Video; 1954)
“The pic is so bad, you can hear the dogs barking.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The 29-year-old NYC stage actor, Paul Newman, makes his film debut in this inane Bible epic, a ripoff of the commercially successful Quo Vadis and The Robe, that tries to cash in on those religious themed moneymakers. Lorne Greene also makes his film debut. Newman apologized in 1966 for starring in this dreck by taking an ad in a Hollywood trade paper and urging that it not be watched on television, where it was shown for the first time on an LA station. The Silver Chalice is based on the best-seller by Thomas B. Costain; it’s tritely written by Lesser Samuels. Veteran journeyman Hollywood director Victor Saville (“Eversong”/”Evergreen”/”Kim”) never gets a handle on this mess and lets it go putrid. The pic is so bad, you can hear the dogs barking.The Silver Chalice is famous for being the one that began the CinemaScope revolution in big-budget epics.
The Silver Chalice is set in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch, in 20 A.D. The wealthy and childless Greek Ignatius (E.G. Marshall) adopts a talented artistic young child and renames him after his father, Basil (Paul Newman). The first century Greek sculptor is unjustly sold into slavery by his hateful uncle Linus (Herbert Rudley), after Ignatius dies. The court magician Simon (Jack Palance) warns Basil that Linus is planning to kill him and with the help of the Apostle Luke (Alexander Scourby), Basil escapes to Jerusalem to the house of Aaron (Michael Pate)–a Jew whose father, Joseph of Arimathea, removed Christ from the cross and buried Him in the family sepulcher. Joseph shows Basil the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper, and asks the gifted sculptor Basil to design a silver chalice for it.
There’s little action, but the most exciting scenes are the following: Simon, a false prophet who believes he can fly like a god and leads a revolutionary sect seeking to overthrow Roman rule in Jerusalem with the hopes that he will be recognized as the Messiah; Simon’s sexy assistant, Helena (Virginia Mayo), who thrives on pagan hedonism and materialism and tempting Basil; Deborra (Pier Angeli), the good girl Christian granddaughter of Joseph whom Basil marries and under her influence he will convert to Christianity; the Emperor Nero (Jacques Aubuchon), who lives it up at his sumptuous banquet while railing at the Christians as troublemakers; the troubled Apostle Peter (Lorne Greene), who fills the screen with ominous speeches; and, a cast of thousands who reside between Antioch and Rome and fill the screen with dull spectacle.
The Holy Grail ends up stolen and only a shard is recovered in the ensuing chase of the slain thief, after Rome goes on a looting spree. The evil Simon wanted the Cup in order to destroy it, while the Romans lusted after it to satisfy their decadence. If you know the story, this lavish costumer will bore you and leave you mostly admiring the colorful set designs. If you don’t know the tale, do yourself a favor and get it from another source.
REVIEWED ON 4/11/2010 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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