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Case Number 15905: Small Claims Court

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The Silver Chalice

Warner Bros. // 1954 // 135 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // March 12th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Joel Pearce doesn't have faith in Paul Newman.

The Charge

The epic film that launched Paul Newman's screen career.

The Case

God save us from the biblical epics of the '50s. Has there ever been a more heavy-handed genre in the history of film? It's true, several great classics came out of this period, but they are few and far between. The Silver Chalice is not one of these great classics. Indeed, if legends are true, Paul Newman once disowned the film and apologized for how terrible it is. I don't know if that's true, but if it is it seems an odd choice for inclusion in Warner's new Paul Newman film series.

In it, Newman plays Basil, a low-born man sold into slavery. He is also a great sculptor, and is brought to Jerusalem to craft a silver chalice around the cup of Christ. Meanwhile, an escaped slave girl named Helena (Virginia Mayo, The Best Years of Our Lives) teams up with Simon the Magician (Jack Palance, Gor), who didn't REALLY repent when he met Jesus.

Whether or not the rumors are true, The Silver Chalice is pretty awful. Despite a few decent performances (from Newman and Palance particularly), much of the acting is painful and overwrought. At times, the actors stand dumbfounded for a moment, unsure what to do next. This is not helped any by the script, which is equally painful. Perhaps the actors are simply trying to make the most of the words they have been given. There is a lot of talking, and not much action. The dialogue is sometimes laughably funny, but mostly it's just hard to watch. This is definitely the stuff of high camp, which will be a riot for those who love classic films, and excruciating for everyone else.

Than, there's the set design. Instead of the grand recreations found in so many of the epics from the time period, the aim was to create a more modernistic look and feel. The fusion of classic Roman style and art deco is completely ludicrous. At times, it looks as though the studio created the set out of giant painted cardboard boxes. Just as with the acting and script, the look of the film lacks the grandeur that we've come to expect from the genre.

I know there are a number of fans who are waiting to see The Silver Chalice arrive on DVD. So long as they are not disappointed by the quality of the film, they should be pleased with this release. Warner has put it out in the original theatrical format of 2.35:1. While the transfer looks good overall, it lacks the sharpness and brilliance of Warner's best restoration efforts. Given the spotty history of the film, this is no real surprise. Still, fans of the film will be quite pleased with the overall look. The sound also shows its age throughout. Although it has been upmixed to 5.1, I could have believed I was listening to a mono track. The voices are generally audible, but sometimes drop out sharply. There are no special features on the disc, not even a theatrical trailer.

There is a scene in the film where Simon the Magician is trying to convince people to convert from Christianity using a collection of simply magic tricks, along the lines of pulling rabbits from his hat. For me, the ridiculousness of this scene sums up the whole experience of the film. The film presumes not only that parlor tricks would work on a population at the time, but also that it would amuse us as an audience. This is a production with too much cheap flash and not enough genuine value. While some will find themselves amused by it in the same way they would a horror film from the same era, everyone else will understand it for the failure that it is. The Silver Chalice compares to the great epics of the period the way that cruise ship entertainment compares to great shows on Broadway: it tries too hard and achieves too little.

As such, I don't really recommend The Silver Chalice to anyone except those who already know what they're getting themselves into. Even the most ardent fans of Paul Newman will want to pass on this turkey.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 55

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.55:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• French
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Drama
• Historical
• Religious and Spiritual

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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