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Based on a best-seller by Thomas B. Costain, and directed by Victor
Saville, "The Silver Chalice" was one of the studio's early CinemaScope
films, and was really a variation on Fox's "The Robe," the first
CinemaScope movie that had been a huge success in 1953... The action
follows a group of Christians who are dedicated to preserving Christ's
Holy Cup twenty years after the Last Supper...
Since Newman had the lead as a young Greek silversmith, sold into slavery, then chosen by the Christians to design a chalice for the Cup, becomes involved in battles and orgies, and must decide between the pagan world represented by a courtesan (Virginia Mayo) and the Christian world represented by his young, innocent wife (Pier Angeli). There is also a mad pagan magician (Jack Palance), who wants to destroy the chalice and establish his own religion, replacing Christ's miracles with black magic...
Newman was ideally cast as a Greek, because of his classic features, but he makes his film debut at particularly unfortunate time... 1954 was the year of "The Wild One" and "On the Waterfront," and Brando was at the height of his popularity...
I have to agree with the negative comments on this one. First of all,
let's begin with the good points. It got two Oscar nominations--one for
William Skall's color cinematography and the other for Franz Waxman's
tasteful background score. Indeed, the only tasteful thing about the
film is that score.
PAUL NEWMAN at least doesn't have to be ashamed of how he photographed in color because he makes a handsome film debut (physically) but was apparently given no directions from Victor Saville on how to play the role of a man who worked on the framework for The Silver Chalice. His is a bland performance at best and it is undercut even more when he has to share the screen with the terribly miscast VIRGINIA MAYO.
Mayo looks as though she just left the chorus line of The Goldwyn Girls and had the artists paint her eyebrows in what someone must have assumed would resemble women of antiquity. She saunters around in her veiled costumes as though she is about to break out into a burlesque queen's rendition of a bump and grind song number.
JACK PALANCE steals the show with his overwrought, maniacal performance as a magician who begins to believe in his own ballyhoo (or his own press clippings) and thinks he can actually fly without any contraptions aiding his flight. Oddly enough, his caricature of a role fits into the scheme of things, seeing as how the stylized sets and costumes suggest nothing more than comic strip vision.
Adding to lack of credibility is the casting of NATALIE WOOD as the young Helena who turns into Mayo as an adult. Now that would take the work of a major magician. LORNE GREENE, in his film debut, and E.G. MARSHALL struggle with poorly defined roles in the supporting cast.
Summing up: Dismal. The only question is, what inspired Franz Waxman to write such a pleasing background score?
Well I've waiting for years to see this movie, and finally I have. I made it my Christmas treat. Well okay maybe "treat" is stretching it. I don't know if it was one of the worst films of the fifties. But it's probably Paul Newman's worst performance in movies. Then again, the dialogue he was given was pretty dismal. As for Jack Palance, He not only chews the scenery, he spits it back at you. The movie definitely livened up when he was on screen. Virginia mayo looks like a hooker. Hmmm. was she supposed to be a hooker? She's only 5 years older than Newman, but looks about 20. Still there were some decent performances noticeably from Joseph Wiseman, and Pier Angeli. It also kept my interest.
Having read all of the various reviewers'comments, I wonder at all the negative opinions : "The worst film ever made according to Paul Newman and many of his fans" - "a tax write -off along the lines of THE PRODUCERS "- "almost unintentionally bad like an Ed Wood feature". I think none of that is true. Surprisingly I find much of this movie highly entertaining. Paul Newman really need not be ashamed of his debut work - he certainly looks right as Basil and for the most part, he acts the part convincingly - he does especially well in his scenes with Pier Angeli- obviously MGM thought they had real chemistry because they were soon re-teamed in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME. Jack Palance's over the top Simon the Magician is a great villain - you hate him but love his outlandish behavior that climaxes with his attempt to fly off a giant tower. Virginia Mayo in a badly written part wins your sympathy as the 'bad" girl/courtesan. The stylized sets are often criticized - but it is their very oddness that adds a special,dreamlike quality to many scenes. This was not a cost cutting measure by Warners, as some have suggested. In fact, this film was quite a moneymaker upon its initial release. Perhaps the most successful element of the entire project is Franz Waxman's beautiful, moving music score- one of the best of the period - it holds up to many listens. I think viewers today who see this in pan&scan format can not appreciate its beauty when seen in a theater in Cinemascope & Stereophonic Sound - I saw it on re-release in the 60s and it was impressive( available on a widescreen version great out of print laser disc and recently released on DVD ). Certainly not a great movie , it still has an entertainment value most reviewers are missing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I actually enjoyed a few parts of this bizarre movie, the first for
Paul Newman. I think Jack Palance had the juicier role and he made the
most of it as the magician, Simon, who challenges the Lord himself.
This was the only "real" part of this movie, with a storyline taken
from the Bible.
Then we get the problem areas. A real bible story with modernistic, surreal sets.
Beautiful Virginia Mayo looks like a Vulcan from Star Trek with her uplifted eyebrows. Her gowns are very 1950's.
During Caesar's feast the dancers pop out of the floor and gyrate like they just came from a modern dance recital. The music is deafening.
The dialog is simplistic and often unintentionally funny. So are some of the scenes, like the looting scene where two women fight over a gown like they're in Macy's.
But what takes so much from the actors is the sets. I just couldn't get past gawking at the most bizarre sets I've ever seen in a movie, much less a Biblical one. These two things simply do not mesh.
"The Bible" anthology orator Alexander Scourby (as Luke) chooses Greek
sculptor Paul Newman (as Basil) to fashion "The Silver Chalice" that
served at Jesus Christ's "Last Supper" with faces of the Lord Christ
and some of his disciples. Looking tanned and handsome in Warner
colors, Mr. Newman not only has trouble recreating the face of Jesus,
but also choosing between bosomy Pagan-tilting Virginia Mayo (as
Helena) and pretty Christian-leaning Pier Angeli (as Deborra). His cup
Unlike Newman, you'll have no trouble figuring out where his character and this story are going...
Going up are Ms. Mayo's plucked and penciled eyebrows; going down is Jack Palance (as Simon) as the new Messiah. Don't be too quick with the fast-forward button, lest you miss Mr. Palance's fall from grace. Newman, who herein moved from TV dramatic guest to big screen star, was not proud of this film; and, it's easy to see why. It's a woefully misguided Biblical epic, with Newman not the least of its problems. The musical score by Franz Waxman is nicely done, especially during softer sequences.
**** The Silver Chalice (12/17/54) Victor Saville ~ Paul Newman, Virginia Mayo, Pier Angeli, Jack Palance
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Silver Chalice is loaded with funny moments. Paul Newman was
embarrassed about the film but his acting was not nearly so bad as some
of the others.
Natalie Wood, as a blonde slave girl was OK but she grew up into Virginia Mayo who had such bizarre makeup it made her look much older than she was. Her role is never clearly defined. Is she married to Simon? If so, why does she flirt with all those men with her bottomless wine mug?
There seems to be a large dune-filled desert somewhere between Antioch and Jerusalem. Roman soldiers were inexplicably riding camels. Paul Newman and Luke attack them with spears. While riding along the trail they had these spears strapped across their backs (not vertically - riding too close to your buddy could be hazardous.) I am amazed that they got camels to run and charge.
One Roman soldier attacks a fallen Christian by slapping him with his sword instead of stabbing or slicing at him. Then Pier Angeli throws a small stone at the soldier, who is wearing a metal helmet, breast plate and carrying a shield. The impact from this small stone causes him to collapse.
The menu at Nero's feast is very unique. Fried grasshoppers, and ground pearls stuffed with pheasant eggs among other delicacies.
Jack Palance wears fringed tablecloths throughout the film but his final costume is a red body suit with what looks like black spermatozoa all over.
Its the kind of movie that you could watch again and again to find more hysterical details.
The art direction is horrible. The sets are cheaply done. The cinematography could have been done by a three-year-old. And it has Lorne Greene. All of these are the earmarks of a horrible movie, and it is, in fact, horrible. Yet, frankly, there is something fun about all this. Newman's performance really isn't that bad -- at least give him points for effort -- and Virginia Mayo, probably one of the most underrated actresses of her generation, is miscast but not bad. Add this to Jack Palance's always-watchable scenery-chewing histrionics and you have a classically bad film. This could make a fortune on those midnight movie circuits; it deserves legendary bad film status. And, by the way, who ever told Thomas Costain he could write?
This film is certainly an oddity but deserves some mention for the
actors involved, and especially Jack Palance as "Simon the Magician".
I too remember watching this around Easter at around age 10, it could be an interesting film for children who don't understand the historical issues of Emperor Nero,the Romans and conflicts of Christianity etc.
As another reviewer mentioned, it is odd with unusual sets. Virginia Mayo, however, looks lovely as always, even with some over the top eyebrow makeup and gold eyeshadow.
Paul Newman is a slave who must craft a special chalice for Jesus. Mayo, as royalty attempts to rescue him from his chains. Simon the Magician entertains Caesar but loses his mind in the end, building a special tower and wings to prove to Caesar that he can fly. He is just as much a God as any other, he proclaims.
The film is theater and a bit campy as you get older but worth watching as a curiosity. 6/10
Managed to catch this film at a neighborhood theater after its first-run release and, even then, was quite stupefied by its extremely odd brew of elements: some fairly good acting (though it's no wonder Paul Newman disowned it at the time and has probably paid to have it permanently suppressed...It hasn't been scheduled on American Movie Classics, for instance, in years!); some elaborate-looking, old-timey costumes clashing with Rolf Gerard's massive sets (He was apparently told to give them a "modern" look.); the great set piece of the magician, Simon (lovingly hammed by Jack Palance), "flying" off the top of a skyscraping tower; a blonde Natalie Wood (Who thought she looked good THAT way?!?); and one of Franz Waxman's sweeping orchestral scores, taking advantage of the stereophonic sound system used for the magnetic prints. Unless A.M.C. decides to show this letter-boxed again (something they now almost never do anymore with the widescreen films they schedule...Fie on them!), the imaginative use of CinemaScope by director Victor Saville and his cinematographer, William V. Skall, will be lost to cinema-viewing antiquity. (No doubt the VHS tape is, shudder!, "formatted.")
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