The growing ambition of Julius Caesar is a source of major concern to his close friend Brutus. Cassius persuades him to participate in his plot to assassinate Caesar but they have both sorely underestimated Mark Antony.
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Brutus, Cassius, and other high-ranking Romans murder Caesar, because they believe his ambition will lead to tyranny. The people of Rome are on their side until Antony, Caesar's right-hand man, makes a moving speech. The conspirators are driven from Rome, and two armies are formed: one side following the conspirators; the other, Antony. Antony has the superior force, and surrounds Brutus and Cassius, but they kill themselves to avoid capture. Written by
John Oswalt <email@example.com>
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Hence! home, you idle creatures get you home:/ Is this a holiday? what! know you not,/ Being mechanical, you ought not walk/ Upon a labouring day without the sign/ Of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?
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50 years after the fact, the most interesting angle on Mankiewicz' 'Julius Caesar' is perhaps the blend of acting styles that characterizes it. With Mankiewicz dialogue is all, and it is a source of endless fascination to me how he manages to make this a uniformly brilliantly acted film.
Mankiewicz doesn't strive to open up the play and make it naturalistic, but he does allow his camera to roam freely, creating space around his characters. But it is in his directing of the actors that he excels, the way that he shows the fragile dynamics in the crowd of conspirators before and after their stabbing of Caesar even more than in the famous monologues. Will history frown upon them? Or applaud their act? "That we shall die, we know", all else is uncertain.
Of course the key scene of the film and Shakespeare's play, takes place right after Caesar's assassination. The rabble has gathered at the Capitol to hear Brutus explain himself, and James Mason, in a refreshingly un-actorish way, beautifully defends Brutus the well-intentioned butcher, laying bare the dilemma of the noble assassin. It was "not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more", and he sways the crowd with his rhetoric.
Then Brando takes the floor, speaking up for his benefactor, the slain Caesar: "Friend, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ear", he says, having carried the bloodied corpse out in his arms. His speech gradually builds in momentum, and the sheer excitement of watching Brando's performance today is reason enough to watch the film. How elegantly, deftly he speaks treason against Brutus and the new would-be rulers. "They are honourable men", he says, and the discrete colouring of the adjective makes it obvious how Mark Anthony really feels about it. "If you have tears, prepare to shed them now" indeed. There are layers in Brando's performance that warrants more than one viewing, just the tolerant half-smile when he is playing the rabble for suckers. "Ah, how you weep". His unfathomable half-smile turns up again near the end, and it speaks volumes.
Of course, John Gielgud as Cassius is volatile and very rooted in the British thespian tradition which doesn't lend itself easily to film in my opinion. Film actor Edmond O'Brien is great as the ambitious and untrustworthy Casca, but unfortunately the women have little to do. Brutus' wife Portia is played by Deborah Kerr who never looked more stunning than here, and she delivers her few lines with conviction. Greer Garson is Caesar's wife, warning him against making an appearance at the Capitol on the fateful day, but she is hardly given any screen-time.
The film is not the last word in Shakespeare in any sense of the word, but it is entertaining and true to what it sets out to do. And the acting styles blend together wonderfully.
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