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Pope Julius is eager to leave behind works by which he will be remembered. To this end he cajoles Michelangelo into painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. When not on the battlefield uniting Italy, the Pope nags Michelangelo to speed up his painful work on the frescoes. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Philip Dunne wrote the screenplay of this film in 1959, around the time the original book by Irving Stone was published. At one time, it was thought that Fred Zinnemann would direct and that Spencer Tracy would play Pope Julius II. See more »
On the eastern wall of the Sistine Chapel, we can see two frescoes that have been painted by Arrigo Paludano in 1571 and Matteo da Lecce, thirty years after Michelangelo completed the Last Judgement (1541). They replaced the first paintings by Signorelli and Ghirlandaio destroyed by a partial collapsing of the wall. Obviously, they couldn't be shown if the action takes place between 1508 and 1512. See more »
When you think about it, making a movie about artistry is pretty hard. Painting, writing, sculpting, music, whatever, it's not easy to make the act very interesting--painting is painstaking, it takes a long time. But in this movie, they succeed. Not just making a movie, but making an epic, a massive movie out of an act of creation, is a tough thing to do. But they really do succeed. At the heart of the movie isn't really the act of creation, or the passion for it, or even the ceiling itself--it's the adversarial relationship between Rex Harrison (Pope Julius II) and Charlton Heston (Michaelangelo).
It's certainly not that passion and creation are not here, it's just that they enrich the story about two men and their relationship. When Julius comes into the chapel in the middle of the night, and Michaelangelo is invariably there, there's a bond, even with silent incipient tension.
Heston is of course the only person for this role, as epics go, he's the best. For some reason he manages not to be overcome by the massive scale of these sorts of movies--something that happens to almost everyone else (look at Sinatra and Cary Grant in "the Pride and the Passion", they are totally lost in the grande scale, and they're the incomparable Grant and the larger than life Sinatra, not much more to be said there). Heston makes a solid tortured artist and Rex Harrison is quite wonderful as the Pope. He communicates the strength and intelligence of a Pope who loves art but must go to battle to preserve all that he holds dear. There's a scene when the Pope wants people to see the half completed chapel, since he has grown impatient with the time and when Michaelangelo bitterly objects, Harrison explodes with anger--extremely effective. When Harrison passed, it was truly a loss to movies.
There are flaws, no question, and it's not Heston's best work, course, once you've done Ben Hur and the Ten Commandments, nothing else is going to be your best work. The subplot with the sort of love interest is pretty silly, and it goes on a bit too long. The earnestness of the faith in the church, the sincerity of Heston when he says "Holiness" to the pope, a man that drives him crazy, is poignant. His faith is deep, almost as if he derives his love of art from a love of God. There are even some nice moments of levity as when a spattered Michaelangelo spits out a gob of paint and it lands near a watching Julius; or when the Pope creates a cardinal out of teen for payment in order to keep up the painting.
When it comes to big movies, this definitely lays with a handful of others that will never be surpassed--Titanic tried to be this kind of movie, and proves that even with $200 million and all the nifty gizmos of the modern age, it's very difficult to do; c'mon, Rex Harrison and Charlton Heston compared to Leo DeCaprio and Billy Zane--not much of a contest there.
See the movie, forgive it its flaws and appreciate the richness and nuance of the relationship between Pope and Artist.
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