The Silver Chalice (film)
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|The Silver Chalice|
|Directed by||Victor Saville|
|Produced by||Victor Saville|
|Screenplay by||Lesser Samuels|
|Based on||The Silver Chalice|
by Thomas B. Costain
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Cinematography||William V. Skall|
|Edited by||George White|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Budget||$4.5 million (US)|
|Box office||$3.2 million (US)|
The Silver Chalice is a 1954 American historical epic film directed and produced by Victor Saville, based on Thomas B. Costain's 1952 novel of the same name. It was Saville's last film and marked the acting debut of Paul Newman; despite being nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his performance, Newman later called it "the worst motion picture produced during the 1950s".
A Greek artisan from Antioch is commissioned to cast the cup of Christ in silver and sculpt around its rim the faces of the disciples and Jesus himself. He travels to Jerusalem and eventually to Rome to complete the task. Meanwhile, a nefarious interloper is trying to convince the crowds that he is the new Messiah by using nothing more than cheap parlor tricks.
It marked the film début of Paul Newman as an artist named Basil (né Ambrose), who was given the task of making a silver chalice to house the Holy Grail. It also featured Virginia Mayo as Helena, Pier Angeli as Deborra, Jack Palance as Simon Magus, the villain, Joseph Wiseman as Mijamin, Alexander Scourby as Saint Luke, Walter Hampden as Joseph of Arimathea, Lorne Greene as Peter, and an appearance by Natalie Wood, who plays Helena as a youth. Victor Saville was the director.
Cast as Listed in the Opening Credits:
- Virginia Mayo as Helena
- Pier Angeli as Deborra
- Jack Palance as Simon
- Paul Newman as Basil
- Walter Hampden as Joseph of Arimathea
- Joseph Wiseman as Mijamin
- Alexander Scourby as Luke
- Lorne Greene as Peter
- David J. Stewart as Adam
- Herbert Rudley as Linus
- Jacques Aubuchon as Nero
- E. G. Marshall as Ignatius
- Michael Pate as Aaron
- Natalie Wood as a young Helena
- Peter Raynolds as a young Basil
- Mort Marshall as Benjie
- Booth Colman as Hiram
- Terence De Marney as Sosthene
- Robert Middleton as Idbash
- Ian Wolfe as Theron
- Lawrence Dobkin as Ephraim
- Philip Tonge as Ohad
- Albert Dekker as Kester
- Strother Martin as Father
- Beryl Machin as Eulalia
The film featured unusual semiabstract settings and decor, created by the stage designer Rolfe Gerard in a striking departure from the normal practice of the day for Hollywood biblical "epics." A notable musical score by Franz Waxman was nominated for an Academy Award.
The film had its world premiere in the small town of Saranac Lake, New York, which won a competition selling Christmas Seals. Saville, Mayo, Angeli and Palance attended, and participated in, a parade around the time of the town's annual winter carnival. The premiere itself was hosted by television personality Art Linkletter.
Audio and video releases
The film was released on VHS and, in 2009, on DVD.
A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote that the filmmakers "have come up with a spectacle-filled adventure easily fitted to the lush hues of WarnerColor and the king-sized screen of Cinemascope. But in providing a modicum of excitement and generous portions of extravaganza they have turned out a cumbersome and sometimes creaking vehicle that takes too long to reach its goal." Variety wrote, "Like the Costain book, the picture is overdrawn and sometimes tedious, but producer-director Victor Saville still manages to instill interest in what's going on, and even hits a feeling of excitement occasionally. John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "it is colorful at times, rather tedious in other portions." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote, "Lester Samuels' screen play meanders self-consciously and Victor Saville's direction is just as overblown. I found nothing remarkable in the performances of the leads, Paul Newman (not as good as he's been on TV), Pier Angeli, Virginia Mayo (more synthetically blondined than ever), Jack Palance (an overtheatric villain), or even Walter Hampden (the ancient Joseph)." Harrison's Reports thought the film "deserves a high rating from the production point of view," but was "only moderately interesting" as entertainment. John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote that the film "has to do with the pursuit of the Grail by the most dismal assortment of characters I've encountered in a decade." The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Any true religious atmosphere in this vulgar and incongruous fancy-dress parade is out of the question ... Some may discover uproarious moments, many will be repelled by the tastelessness of the spectacle as a whole." Writing in the first edition of his Film Guide in 1977, Leslie Halliwell described the film as "[p]o-faced biblical hokum ... with howlingly bad casting and direction ... [a] sea of boredom", assigning it 0 stars out of 4.
The elaborate musical score by Franz Waxman has been prized more than the nearly forgotten movie. Elmer Bernstein recorded a suite in 1975, and Film Score Monthly released the surviving portions of the soundtrack recording in 2007.
Paul Newman was apparently not proud of his performance. When the film was broadcast on television in 1966, he took out an advertisement in a Hollywood trade paper apologizing for his performance, and requesting people not to watch the film. This backfired, and the broadcast received unusually high ratings. The film is sometimes referred to as Paul Newman and the Holy Grail. Newman called the film "the worst motion picture produced during the 1950s", and once screened it for guests at his home, handing out pots, wooden spoons, and whistles and encouraging the audience to offer noisy critiques.
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955', Variety Weekly, January 25, 1956
- Weiler, A. H. (December 27, 1954). "' Silver Chalice' at the Paramount Among Features That Have Premieres". The New York Times. 22.
- "Film Reviews: The Silver Chalice". Variety. 6.
- Scott, John L. (December 27, 1954). "'Silver Chalice' Lavish, Spectacular Cinema". Los Angeles Times. Part III, p. 8.
- Coe, Richard L. (December 28, 1954). "'Phffft' Is Spoof Of Polite Divorce". The Washington Post. 16.
- "'The Silver Chalice' with Virginia Mayo, Pier Angeli and Jack Palance". Harrison's Reports. December 25, 1954. 206.
- McCarten, John (January 15, 1955). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 70.
- "The Silver Chalice". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 22 (257): 86. June 1955.
- Halliwell, Leslie. Halliwell's Film Guide to 8,000 English Language Films, 1st edition. p. 829.
- Video on YouTube
- Susan Wloszczyna, "Paul Newman: A rare breed" (USA Today, byline 9/30/2008, accessed 2/23/2009.)
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