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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Silver Chalice (1954)

The adopted son (Paul Newman) of a wealthy Greek (E.G. Marshall) is sold into slavery by his Uncle (Herbert Rudley) after his father's death. But his freedom is later bought by an evangelist (Alexander Scourby) so that the young man, who is a sculptor, can create a silver chalice commemorating Christ's last supper. Parallel to this plot, an ambitious magician (Jack Palance) aspires to greatness that soon descends into madness. Based on the novel by Thomas B. Costain and directed by Victor Saville. While it's your standard stiffly acted 50s biblical epic with pompous dialog, it has one stunning asset that elevates it above most of its ilk: the amazing production design by Rolf Gerard and the art direction of Boris Leven. It makes no attempt to look realistic. Indeed, its purposely artificial look as if a stage set is intentional, a sort of stylized sterile expressionism. This was Newman's film debut and is often considered his worst film (it's not) but he's certainly all wrong in the casting department. Newman is one of those contemporary actors like a fish out of water in period films or costume dramas. The most interesting character and the film's best performance comes from Virginia Mayo as Palance's wily assistant. The strong Oscar nominated score is by Franz Waxman. With Natalie Wood, Lorne Greene, Joseph Wiseman, Albert Dekker, Robert Middleton and Ian Wolfe.

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