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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

THE SILVER CHALICE (1954)


Paul Newman apologized in print for his debut in this biblical epic. And he is plenty bad. But the film is more odd than awful. With THE ROBE still coining dough in all its CinemaScopic grandeur, why not make . . . err, THE CUP! Okay, okay, bad title. How ‘bout THE SILVER CHALICE? Newman plays a disinherited adoptee who’s torn between a pagan blond (the slightly worn Virginia Mayo) and a Christian brunette (perky Italian-accented Pier Angeli) and on the run from a magician with a messiah complex (Jack Palance). The plot completely falls apart in the third act (where’s the cup?), but the look of the film is a knock-out. Victor Saville, winding up a long career as producer/director, seems to have left the actors to their own devices, but he & lenser William Skall gave the production an artsy abstract look completely at odds with the then current ultra-realistic Hollywood style. It’s more Robert Edmund Jones or Euro-Fest Opera than Hollywood kitsch. And with Franx Waxman’s palpitating score, it sounds like an opera, too. Waxman’s a naughty boy here, giving the chalice a leitmotif right out of Wagner’s PARSIFAL. Holy Grail, Batman!

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