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  Silver Chalice, The Meet The Man Who ExcelsBuy this film here.
Year: 1954
Director: Victor Saville
Stars: Paul Newman, Virginia Mayo, Jack Palance, Pier Angeli, Walter Hampden, Joseph Wiseman, Alexander Scourby, Lorne Greene, David J. Stewart, Herbert Rudley, Jacques Aubuchon, E.G. Marshall, Michael Pate, Natalie Wood, Ian Wolfe, Albert Dekker
Genre: Drama, Historical
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Twenty years after the death of Christ, in the port of Antioch, young Basil was the son of poor parents and wished nothing more than to become a sculptor or silversmith, but then he was reluctantly given up by his father to become the adopted son of a local nobleman who was childless. He grew up in a rich household, but never forgot the slave girl, Helena (Natalie Wood), who was kind to him before she escaped, and when the nobleman died, the adult Basil (Paul Newman) was tricked out of his fortune and forced into slavery as an artist...

If there was one man who was less a fan of The Silver Chalice than almost anyone who saw it, then it was Paul Newman, who, legend had it, took out ads in the trade press apologising for his acting in what was his debut. A pretty auspicious debut on the face of it, starring in a lavishly-budgeted adpatation of Thomas B. Costain's bestselling historical novel, but what keeps those pages turning in a book can be deadly on the screen, as it was here. In these hands, with its deliberately stylised appearance and stagey dialogue, the material fell hopelessly flat and even came close to unintentionally funny.

I'm not sure what effect they were aiming for with those sets, but with their plain and unfussy look you can't help but see them and think "school play", and when the actors are pronouncing their portentous lines as if they were written by Christ himself, you wonder at the supposed levels of professionalism here: half the actors seem miscast, not simply Newman. When Natalie Wood appears for a couple of scenes in the first ten minutes with bright blonde hair, you know that something is up. And when she grows up to be vampish, alarmingly-eyebrowed Virginia Mayo... Actually, apart from those labouring under false beards, the most fitting performance is from Jack Palance.

Palance was no stranger to historical epics in 1954, Sign of the Pagan being his other big movie of the year where he played another villain in Attila the Hun, and here he steals the show with his Simon the Magician. Not, you ask, a celebrity conjuror as in Paul Daniels or David Copperfield? And the answer to that is, yes, as a matter of fact, almost exactly like a first century version of those fellows. The powers that be don't want this newfangled Christianity to gain any more popularity so to nip it in the bud they concentrate not on any of that being nice to each other business which they believe makes cowards of their warriors, but on the whole miracles thing.

So Simon is hired to portray a new Messiah with his magic winning over the crowd, as meanwhile the true Christians suffer and try to make sure that their religion carries on for posterity. This is where Basil enters the frame, as he is asked to create a silver chalice to house the holy grail, something he is happy to do, especially when he sees the light and becomes a convert. However, although all the Simon part of the plot is supposed to make you think that the heathens were suckers for falling for his tricks, what it actually makes you think is how Christ could have very easily been a conman as well by using the same techniques as Simon did - it looks incredibly simple to do if you have the talent for it. The magician is not so much punished for his hubris as made the fall guy (ahem) for believing his own publicity, thus freeing the proper Christians to dominate the world with their faith, but no thanks to dinosaurs like The Silver Chalice. Music by Franz Waxman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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