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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

JULIUS CAESAR (1953)


M-G-M got a lot of publicity when they ‘daringly’ cast Marlon Brando as Marc Anthony, so you might as well start with the nauseating ‘Ode to Marlon’ in the Extras section on this Warners DVD. Sycophancy on this scale earns its own comeuppance which soon comes via Brando’s intro shot where Louis Calhern’s Caesar towers over a shockingly short Brando. Take that! Similarly, producer John Houseman worked up a smart edit, deftly cutting the second half of the play, but he couldn’t turn helmer Joe Mankiewicz into his old partner, Orson Welles. Mank hasn’t the visual flair to make this posterboard Rome come to life and his crowd scenes are frankly hopeless. Happily, the starry cast makes up for much. Brutus is an impossible role, but James Mason almost makes sense of him. John Gielgud is tremendous as Cassius and even pulls off that extravagant hairpiece. Edmund O’Brien is a surprise as Casca, who knew? And Marlon, though vocally taxed (too much shouting), shows what he might have done in the field in the scene right after the assassination; the one where he begs the conspirators for their favor. But then go back to Gielgud for a lesson in Shakespearean acting. Watch & listen toward the end of the play when he tosses aside a line like, ‘this hill is far enough.’ It’s quite devastating.

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