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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.
This production stands as a shining example of how a big Hollywood
studio, in this case M-G-M, can make a great Shakespeare film, cast it
intelligently, and still end up with box-office names. No less than
five Hollywood stars - Marlon Brando, James Mason, Deborah Kerr, Greer
Garson, and Edmond O'Brien, are in this film (although two of them have
barely five minutes of screen time) and the entire cast gives fine
James Mason, who actually has the leading role of Brutus (despite the fact that Brando gets top billing) is excellent, giving a conscience-stricken, restrained performance--he even LOOKS the way one likes to imagine that Brutus must have looked. Marlon Brando reminds us of what a brilliant actor he once was--for an actor who deliberately stayed away from Shakespeare, his performance is remarkable--and every word he says is understandable. This film was the great John Gielgud's first chance to immortalize one of his great roles on film and to show movie audiences what made him such a renowned Shakespearean actor---his Cassius is full of envy that seems about to boil over any minute. Louis Calhern, a rather hammy villain in other films, is subtly unsympathetic, yet vulnerable as Julius Caesar. The photography is fine and completely unobtrusive---as is the music; director Mankiewicz has filmed the play without resorting to any gimmicks or cheap "Hollywoody" stunts,and the adaptation is so faithful that no one gets on screen credit for it.
Who cares about historical inaccuracies when you can see a great play as well acted as this one?
I think this is the best filming of a Shakespeare play, in terms of
overall success. The filming is straightforward, with a minimum of
distractions, cuts were made to the script to keep things moving, the
dialog is clearly spoken, and the performances are terrific all around.
As just about every other comment here notes, if you only know Brando from The Godfather and some of his later, and sorrier films, you will be amazed and impressed by his Marc Antony. This is the Brando that I remember, buff, gorgeous and so talented that we were sure he could play just about any part and blow us away. His performance of the famous "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech is a marvel of clarity, and is the linchpin that makes all of the other action of the play make sense.
James Mason is, I think, perfect as Brutus. He is very much like Shakespeare's Hamlet - mulling over every possible facet of every problem he faces, and agonizing to reach a decision. He was a master at portraying a person's ability, or inability, to reach a painful decision. The awesomeness of his responsibility and the consequences of his actions (after all, they are plotting to kill a king) are beautifully shown in his performance.
John Gielgud is my favorite Shakepearean actor. If you had ever had the privilege of seeing him on stage, you would have gotten the full force of his ability to control the character, the language, and to reach out and hold the audience all at the same time. It doesn't quite come across in this film, but I still think he shows that underneath Cassius' treason there is definitely an element of self-doubt and possibly shame at what he is about to do.
I have to disagree with most of the comments about Louis Calhern's Caesar. Several people have said that he didn't capture the majesty and military bearing that Julius Caesar would have had, but we have to remember that Shakespeare intended this as drama, not history. The whole point of the Roman senators' wish to get rid of Caesar is that he is no longer the Caesar they remember: he has become a smug, self-satisfied politician who thinks he is a king, while Rome is still a republic. I think Calhern captures this smarmy, oily, arrogant quality very well. Rome wanted a general, and this Caesar gave them a high-priced car salesman.
I own a copy of this film, and I watch it often. I think it would serve perfectly as an introduction to Shakespeare. By the way, I remember an anecdote related in the memoirs of John Houseman (the producer of this film). He said someone of importance in British theater (I now forget who - possibly it was Geilgud) had observed Brando's performance in the making of the film, and asked him to come to London to star in a Shakespeare festival. Brando said sorry, I can't. I have to get back to Nebraska to help my father get the crop in. Imagine if he had said yes.
I am certainly a fan of the bard's work. Therefor I was pleasantly surprised
to see this movie and hear that it was almost the complete original text
they used for the dialogue. Without subtitles it was a chore to keep up
with, but when you do you are in for a treat.
This classic tale of politics, treachery, love and death was performed to perfection by people such as Marlon Brando (Marc Antony), John Gielgud (Cassius, delivering a powerhouse performance as usual), James Mason (Brutus). I was thrilled by the fact that this movie was produced so lavishly and yet so humble. It never made the mistake, like Cleopatra, to depict the scenes too grand. It all stayed very natural and believable. Of course there must be historical inaccuracies in this story, but was Braveheart so accurate. I think when you start watching a movie written by the Shakespeare you shouldn't expect a documentary on the life of Julius Caesar but a lyrical tale about ancient political Rome.
The photography was great, with its glorious Black and White footage.
Although the text can be offputting for some who are not at the least a bit interested in the language the Bard wrote in.
A must for Shakespeare fans.
William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer of all
time... His plays, written in the 16th and early 17th centuries for a
small repertory theater, are today performed more often and in more
countries than ever before...
"Julius Caesar" is rich in its insights, the struggle for political power, the embellishment of the mind, and the characters of men...
Joseph L. Mankiewicz captures Shakespeare's characters in elegant visuals projecting the beauty of the language, producing civilized entertainment... Its message fills the screen with vitality on the plains of Shakespeare's imagination...
The film is set in Rome 44 B.C. The city is rich with the privileges of its empire, much of it caused by the pretentious Caesar (Louis Calhern) appointing himself dictator... Caesar's greater character flaw, thinking that he is far above others and somehow invincible...
Loyal to Caesar is Mark Antony (Marlon Brando), a brave, intelligent, pleasure-loving cunning man - a character with many hidden traits, misunderstood by all...
Mark Anthony looks at life as a game in which he had a signified part to play... He seems slow to emerge, until he is forced to show his true potential... He is devoted and prefers to be dependent upon Caesar... He wants the crown of emperor to be given to him, so all conflicts could be avoided...
But Brutus (James Mason), an old friend of Caesar, is torn between his personal feelings and his integrity and idealism where the Romans would possess peace, liberty and freedom...
The scrupulous, unselfish Brutus resents Caesar's ambition as absolute ruler... Being very honorable, but very naive, he underestimates Mark Antony, perceiving him as a person who didn't always take life seriously and therefore - he is not a cautious thinker...
The story begins on a festival day as Caesar and his entourage make their way to the stadium... On the way, a blind beggar warns Caesar of 'The Ides of March' (On the middle of the month, the daggers came from every side...) but he is ignored...
In the stadium, the sarcastic Cassius (John Gielgud) sees Brutus as the influential Roman able to unite the nobles in the conspiracy... He implores him to join his cause... For him, Caesar has become too powerful and too popular... He must be removed from power...
Cassius is the most significant character for his ability to perceive the true motives of the characters... He thinks the nobility of Rome is responsible for the government of Rome... Brutus, the back-bone of the plan, agrees to the plot, but refuses Cassius's proposal to slain Mark Antony...
After the conspirators have left, Brutus' wife Portia (Deborah Kerr) asks to know what it is that worries him...
Caesar's wife, Calpurnia (Greer Garson) begs her husband to stay home and not to go to the Senate, for fear of danger... As a superstitious woman she was convinced that some falling meteors are warnings of her husband's death... But Caesar believes his friends have assembled to offer him the crown of emperor... So he moves forward, leaving unopened letter which lists the conspirators...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A lot of people don't like Shakespeare much. Maybe they're intimidated
by the language or the complicated plots. It's understandable. The Bard
came up with some real clunkers: "Comedy of Errors," "Love's Labour
Lost." And it's hard to read the plays in the raw because you're liable
to understand one word out of every three, and lose most of the topical
references. If anybody's going to read the things, they ought to use
the Signet paperbacks that have footnotes on every page explaining the
more arcane content.
But good performances of the better plays are different, and this is a good performance of a better play. The dialog itself is sometimes lifted wholesale from Plutarch's "Lives..." but WS put them together well. Caesar is full of lines that have entered our everyday vocabularies, even if often corrupted. "Beware the Ides of March." "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves." "The coward dies a thousand deaths, the valiant die but once." "Et tu, Brute?" "The most unkindest cut of all." "It was all Greek to me." And (fanfare here, please), the unforgettable, "Friends, Romans, countrymen -- lend me your money." No, that can't be right. Well, it will come to me. Reminds me of the story of the woman who left a performance of "Hamlet" unimpressed, saying, "I don't know what's supposed to be so good about it. It's all made up of old quotations."
At that, this version of "Julius Caesar" is chopped down a bit to make it shorter and eliminate some redundancies and other infelicities. In the play, Brutus hears the clocks chime, whereas all the Romans had for clocks were water wheels. And Brutus is twice told of his wife Portia's death, and each time reacts with surprise and Stoicism. (He really WAS a stoic, which is a nice philosophy if you can actually make yourself believe it.)
The performances are uniformly delightful for one reason or another. John Guilgud, of course, is superb, born for the part of Cassius. I don't care if his voice DOES throb. In fact all the UK actors come across as fitting the roles very comfortably. Something about those impressive Brit accents. Even Greer Garson, who hams it up shamelessly as Calpurnia is no more than slightly embarrassing.
What makes this film such a fascinating experience, aside from the seductive poetry, is that the cast list is filled with people from the MGM stable whom we would never associate with Shakespeare. Okay, George MacReady is there, but he always sounded vaguely British anyway. But Edmund O'Brien bringing his working-class New York accent to the role of Casca? And doing a good job too? Tom Powers as one of the assassins? (He's the old grouch who got murdered in "Double Indemnity.") And the Senator who talks Caesar into going forth and then stabs him? He played in a Twilight Zone episode, "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" He was the Martian with THREE ARMS. Yet he's good too. And the guy who acts as Mark Antony's messenger to the assassins? He's the stupid hillbilly from Tennessee who helps snare Robert Ryan in "Crossfire." Even Ned Glass is in here as a cobbler. And Michael Pate and Michael Ansara who played gangsters or Indians.
Brando is in a league of his own. His Brit accent comes and goes but he's never less than wily and impressive, as opposed to James Mason's rational and honorable Brutus. The key to the plot lies in Mason's and Brando's speeches to the crowd after the murder. Mason is apologetic, logical. Brando, on the other hand, is a really phony and manipulative SOB. What a rabble rouser. He fakes tears, appeals to the mob's greed instead of their brains, and every time he refers to Brutus as "an honorable man" his voice grows more sarcastic and angry. At one point he turns away from the mob and smiles slightly, pleased at his own villainy. What an admirable piece of work, although it's not perfect. There are times when Brando should be humble and a little scared but he still comes across as sullen and angry, as if he were Stanley Kowalski forcing himself to endure Stella's insults at the dinner table.
It's well mounted too, on stylized sets, not pretending to much realism. If they did it today it would cost four hundred billion dollars. This is probably one of the two or three easiest and best-paced versions of a Shakespeare play I've ever seen, and the one I enjoy the most. Yeah, it's a curiosity (Douglas Dumbrille, the black-hatted Western villain, in Julius Caesar?) but it's gripping and it's a grown-up story in the sense that nobody is truly evil or entirely good. I can no longer bring myself to watch the tragic climax. This isn't on TV very often, but if you have a chance, do catch it. Highly recommended.
1953's JULIUS CAESAR was a milestone in it's time, and still is,
perhaps, the finest American production of a Shakespeare play ever
recorded on film. Until Joseph L. Mankiewicz's production, only
Laurence Olivier's British versions of HAMLET and HENRY V had truly
displayed the power and poetry of the Bard's work. Hollywood seemed
content to either truncate it in miscast all-star extravaganzas (A
MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, and ROMEO AND JULIET) or turn it into a weird
kind of carnival sideshow (Orson Welles' MACBETH, performed with
incomprehensible Scottish accents). Perhaps American film makers were
afraid audiences would be put off by Shakespeare's text, with its
archaic words, or felt that a British cast and the confines of a stage
were 'required' to do a 'proper' rendition. For whatever reason, the
British seemed to have a 'lock' on filmed versions of the Bard.
But Mankiewicz understood that Shakespeare was both universal and timeless, and in his capacity of director and (uncredited) screenwriter, he 'opened up' JULIUS CAESAR, eliminating the 'studio' feel of key scenes, and, with producer John Houseman, gathered together an impressive array of talent, with British actors John Gielgud as Cassius, James Mason as Brutus, Greer Garson as Calpurnia, and Deborah Kerr as Portia, and stage-trained American actors such as Oscar winner Edmond O'Brien in supporting roles.
Where the greatest gamble, and payoff, came was in the casting of Marlon Brando as Marc Antony. While Brando was already being hailed as the finest American actor of his generation, there were critics, prior to the film's release, who called his acceptance of the role an ego trip, and expected him to fall on his face. Were they ever WRONG! Brando gave the role a power, a physicality, and charisma that stunned critics and audiences alike. With a flawless British accent, he easily held his own with the veteran cast, and displayed a magnetism that is still enthralling, over 50 years later. His performance became the keystone of the film's success.
Not that JULIUS CAESAR is without faults; it is, occasionally, stagy and artificial, the pacing is a bit too slow and deliberate at times, and, as the title character, Louis Calhern is woefully miscast (he looks and sounds more like a jaded grandfather than the charismatic despot who both enthralled and frightened the Roman world). Still, the film is so strong and dynamic that subsequent versions (such as Charlton Heston's ambitious 1970 production) pale in comparison.
Hollywood finally got it 'right', and we can be grateful that a truly unforgettable presentation of JULIUS CAESAR is available for us, and future generations, to enjoy!
This excellent adaptation of the Shakespeare play concerns on greedy,
fighting power and epic-historical treatment in ancient Roman empire .
The picture happens after battles of Munda and Farsalia when Pompeyo is
defeated by Julius Caesar(Louis Calhern) and one time having conquered
Gaul. Caesar(100-40 B.C.) goes back to Rome and crosses the river
Rubicon with attempt to do himself sole governor of the empire, a
purpose resented by those who still had hopes of retaining the
centuries-old Republican form of ruling. Then the aristocratic party ,
including Bruto(James Mason), supposedly Caesar's bastard son, and
Cassio(John Gielgud) prepare a conspiracy at March 15, 44 b.c.-Idus of
March- and murdered Caesar. The shooting made an intent at historic
realism finishing in the battle of Philippi where the second
triumvirate(Marc Anthony,Lepido and Octavius Augustus: Caesar's
grandnephew and his heir) defeat Caesar's assassins and posteriorly
split the Empire among them.
Displays outstanding performances from James Mason as Brutus, Louis Calhern as memorable Caesar, Deborah Kerr as Brutus's wife, and Greer Garson as Calpurnia ,Caesar's first wife, the second one was Cleopatra who is left out of the action entirely. And of course, an electrifying Marlon Brando who makes a terrific acting using Stanislawski method and extraordinary soliloquy over Caesar's body.Acting enjoyable enough spread correctly to the secondaries roles as Ian Wolfe,George McReady,Michael Pate, Edmund Purdom,Douglas Drumbull and Alain Napier as Cicero. Remains surprisingly faithful to Shakespeare playwright and writing directly from original, unlike many others historic movies of the time. Caesar assassination is well staged and spectacular final regarding the battle of Philippi was added by production film , though Mankiewicz to be opposed because he wished a movie completely theatrical.Deservedly won Academy Award for art direction and production design by Cedric Gibbons. Efficiently produced by actor John Houseman and directed with professionalism and imagination by Joseph L Mankiewicz.This gripping movie will like to Shakespeare devotees but its spirit is intact ,despite are taken a briefs liberties.Shakespeare would have admired this classic film. It's followed by an inferior remake, being the original much better version, and directed in 1970 by Stuart Burge with Charlton Heston(Marlon Brando's role), Jason Robards(James Mason-lookalike),Robert Vaughn(Edmond O'Brien,Casca role-alike), Jill Bennet(Greer Garson), Diana Rigg(Deborak Kerr's character)and repeating acting by John Gielgud as Julius Caesar role substituting his phenomenal previous character as Cassius.
If you know about Shakespeare, then I strongly suggest you rent/buy this
movie. Many people, as well as I, think it's the best version of 'Julius
Caesarfor many reasons. It goes along with the events very accurately, and
if you've read Shakespeare's book, you'll see it's like having the very
thing acted out on screen. I also might add that the acting is excellent,
especially Gielgud, who was my personal favorite. However, all the actors
were wonderful, from Ceasar to Lucius. Even the battle scene reminded me a
bit of some of the scenes in Spartacus...
There's just something about this movie that is very appealing. The powerful (and sometimes funny) Cassius is the most captivating character. A lot of the times I could just feel his anger- Brutus, of course, is a very melancholy character, but for him I didn't feel as much as I did for some of the others. Marc Antony was superb, and his presentation of near insanity (Okay, so he's crazy!) that builds up throughout the movie is breathtaking.
You must read the book, or else you probably won't be able to follow this movie. Really all you need to do is go through it with someone who knows how to translate it into easier terms, and then it's like learning a language, and you'll know exactly what the people are talking about, and feel very smart! Lol, this is a classic. A must see!
[And may Cassius, Brutus, Caesar, Calpurnia, Casca, and all the other actors who portrayed these characters, rest in peace!]
Watching Julius Caesar in 2007, I still think it is a work of art.
Being a Shakespeare student myself, I know that his plays are very
demanding and on that Joseph L. Mankiewicz has stood up to my
While reading , we form a picture in our mind of the setting ,the dialog, the expressions,how the characters would look and how they would move on stage and I found that the same were portrayed on screen. The director truly made his vision come to life!
All the actors were great, again kudos to the director. Marlon Brando was just superb as Antony. His funeral oration was an indescribable masterpiece. I didn't expect it to be that good! Among the others,James Mason did quite a good job as Brutus. Louis Calhern, though had a small bit, didn't fail to leave an impact as the great and mighty (and ambitious) Julius Caesar. I also liked Greer Garson as Calpurnia.
Coming to the actors Octavius Caesar was a disappointment, I blame the editor of the script for this. Octavius was supposed to be brought out as the heir of Ceasar. The prevalence of Caesarism, which was not properly brought out in the movie.
The dialog is picked up directly from the play, but quite a bit has been cut off.....which was the only other disappointing thing in the movie. Shakespearean language is not all that difficult to understand in the movie mainly because we can see it being enacted out. All that you simply fail to understand is simply not all that important.
Overall the movie was great and I will not forget to watch it a day before my tests! Julius Caesar was a great feat in the history of cinema.
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