Cast & Crew
In Antioch, in 20 A.D., the wealthy and childless Greek Ignatius adopts a talented young child and renames him "Basil." In his new home, Basil befriends Helena, an ambitious young slave, and under Ignatius' encouragement, grows to be an accomplished sculptor. When Ignatius dies, his brother Linus bribes the officials to deprive Basil of his inheritance and then sell him as a slave. Helena, who now performs with her lover, the successful magician Simon, warns Basil that Linus is planning to kill him. Assisted by Luke, a physician and disciple of Christ, Basil escapes to Jerusalem to the house of Aaron, a Jew whose father, Joseph of Arimathea, removed Christ from the cross and buried Him in the family sepulcher. Joseph shows Basil the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper, and asks Basil to design a silver chalice for it, featuring carvings of the heads of Jesus and His disciples. Basil begins the chalice and creates likenesses of the disciples, but is unable to fashion an image of Jesus. Meanwhile, Mijamin, the leader of a group of Sicarii assassins, asks Simon to help him raise an army by performing "miraculous" tricks to lure the Christians away from their religion and into his army. Simon, who longs to be more than a common magician, convinces Mijamin to help him start a new religion. To demoralize the Christians, they decide to steal the Grail and publicly crush it in the presence of the Christian disciple Peter, against whom Simon holds a long-standing grudge. Basil, upon learning that Helena is in Jerusalem, attends Simon's next performance. When Simon compares himself to Jesus, Joseph's granddaughter Deborra, who has accompanied Basil, shouts accusations of blasphemy, inciting the crowd against her. Basil helps her escape the crowd's wrath. Later, Basil presents the nearly finished chalice to Joseph, who then asks him to go to Rome to meet Peter. Sensing Basil's reluctance to leave, Joseph mistakes the artist's platonic devotion to Deborra for love. The law dictates that Deborra cannot inherit Joseph's fortune unless she is married, and so Joseph, hoping that Basil and Deborra will wed, tells her that Basil loves her. Aware that the ambitious Helena will never leave Simon, Basil tells Deborra that although Helena is his true love, he will marry her so that she can receive her inheritance. They marry in a private ceremony before the dying Joseph. After Basil and Deborra leave for Antioch to collect Joseph's gold, Simon and Mijamin raid Aaron's house for the Grail, but when they find it is gone, they follow the newlyweds. At their camp, as Basil and Deborra sleep in separate tents, Mijamin steals the cup, but Basil follows him, and fights his men to regain it. After leaving Deborra and the Grail in Antioch, Basil proceeds to Rome to meet Peter. There he meets Kester, a witness to his adoption, who promises to help him reclaim his own inheritance. Having been persuaded by Helena to go to Rome, Simon quickly gains Caesar Nero's favor, but the attention feeds his delusions of grandeur. Promising that he will fly like a bird to Nero's glory, Simon petitions the ruler to build a 300-foot tower from which he will take flight. Nero orders Christian slaves to commence building, but many rebel and are crucified. Upon learning of Basil's marriage, the jealous Helena convinces Nero to commission Basil to create a bust, thus resulting in the artist's enforced stay at court. As Basil works on the statue, he witnesses the executions of Christians from his window. He is so angered that he fervently begins to pray and the face of Christ appears to him, causing him to abandon Nero's commission. In the morning, a messenger secretly delivers the completed chalice to Peter and tells Basil that Deborra is in Rome with the Grail. After the tower is completed, the citizens of Rome assemble to see Simon's miracle. Simon, now believing that he is God, tells Helena that he needs no special cables or other chicanery to fly. Ignoring her pleas, Simon jumps from the tower and falls to his death. Feeling cheated, the crowd becomes unruly and Nero, fearing they will turn on him, contrives another entertainment. Ordering Helena to climb the tower and fly, Nero promises that, if successful, her life will be spared. Knowing that her life is over, Helena stoically climbs the tower and then falls to the feet of the crowd. Angered by the failed miracles, angry mobs sack Simon's house, then move on to pillage his neighbors. In the confusion, Basil finds Deborra and professes his love for her. When the Grail and chalice are stolen from Peter's house, Basil chases the robber through the streets, but the man is killed by one of the mob before Basil can catch up with him. When Basil reaches the dead man, only a broken piece of the chalice is left. Later, as Basil and Deborra prepare to sail to Antioch, Peter blesses them and prophesies that the Grail will reappear when mankind needs it.
David J. Stewart
E. G. Marshall
Etta Rae Morgan
Laguna Festival Of Art Players
H. F. Koenekamp
Jean Burt Reilly
Francis J. Scheid
William V. Skall
The Silver Chalice
Based on Thomas B. Costain's best-selling novel, The Silver Chalice is the story of a young Greek artisan who is sold into slavery and later commissioned by early Christian leaders to design and create a receptacle for the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper. British producer-director Victor Saville had acquired the rights to the novel soon after it was published. When The Robe became a huge hit, Saville made a deal with Warner Bros. to produce The Silver Chalice at the studio. Saville's career had ranged from several immensely popular British musicals in the 1930s to MGM dramas in England and America in the '40s, to low-budget Mickey Spillane crime thrillers in the early '50s. A religious epic in Cinemascope was a new challenge for him, and he determined to try a new approach. Instead of having the standard elaborately realistic settings, he hired theatrical designers Boris Leven and Rolf Gerard to create dramatically stylized sets. Instead of choosing his cast from movie actors experienced in costume epics, he turned to the New York stage for new faces, including Canadian actor Lorne Greene, and in the leading role of Basil the sculptor, 29-year old Method actor Paul Newman, in his film debut.
As Saville ruefully admitted in his memoir, "Method acting does not go well with a toga." Newman's performance looked as stiff and uncomfortable as he felt. "The moment I walked into that studio I had a feeling of personal disaster," Newman later recalled. The critics noticed his discomfort. Several saw a resemblance to Marlon Brando, but without Brando's panache. John McCarten of the New Yorker wrote that Newman "delivers his lines with the emotional fervor of a Putnam Division conductor announcing local stops." A.H. Weiler of the New York Times noted that "he is given mainly to thoughtful posing and automatic speechmaking...he is rarely better than wooden."
Newman and the rest of the cast didn't get much help from The Silver Chalice's stilted, ponderous script. Lorne Greene, who plays the Apostle Peter, slowly and solemnly intones his pseudo-biblical gibberish as if it were the Word of God. Virginia Mayo is all heaving bosoms and villainously arched eyebrows as Helena, the courtesan who was Basil's first love. (Look for a blonde, teenaged Natalie Wood in early scenes as the young Helena.) But at least one of the stars, Jack Palance, who plays a megalomaniac magician, managed to have some fun with his character, delivering an over-the-top performance that steals the movie.
The dramatic modern sets in The Silver Chalice were controversial. To some critics, they looked cheap. Otis Guernsey of the New York Herald Tribune described them looking "like a little theatre production of Quo Vadis?" But a review in Fortnight called them "remarkable." Victor Saville found the audience reaction to The Silver Chalice "satisfying," but claimed that Jack Warner took scissors to the film, and "The emaciated Warner version of The Silver Chalice did not do justice to either Thomas Costain or me."
Paul Newman famously called The Silver Chalice "the worst film made in the 1950s." When it was first televised in Los Angeles in the 1960s, he took out an ad in one of the trade papers that read, "Paul Newman apologizes every night this week-Channel 9." In spite of, or perhaps because of Newman's hatred of his film debut, the passing years have given The Silver Chalice a patina of camp. Seen today, the starkly minimalist sets look ever so mid-century modern. And the laughter at Newman's pained posturing and tortured line readings, Virginia Mayo's flouncing femme fatale, and Jack Palance's bravura turn as a mad magician is more affectionate than derisive.
Producer: Victor Saville
Director: Victor Saville
Screenplay: Lesser Samuels; Thomas B. Costain (novel)
Cinematography: William V. Skall
Art Direction: Boris Leven
Music: Franz Waxman
Film Editing: George White
Cast: Virginia Mayo (Helena), Pier Angeli (Deborra), Jack Palance (Simon), Paul Newman (Basil), Walter Hampden (Joseph of Arimathea), Joseph Wiseman (Mijamin), Alexander Scourby (Luke), Lorne Greene (Peter), Natalie Wood (Helena as a child).
C-135m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
The Silver Chalice
The Silver Chalice on DVD
The Silver Chalice is a quasi-Biblical epic in the vein of Quo Vadis and Ben-Hur, fictional stories related to Jesus Christ or the early days of Christianity. Produced in CinemaScope, WarnerColor and stereophonic sound, it's ponderous and unintentionally amusing. The cast guarantees that things won't get dull: various scheming characters include Jack Palance and Joseph Wiseman.
Like the huge hit The Robe, author Thomas B. Costain's story centers on a Christian relic endowed with miraculous spiritual power. The cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper doesn't heal the wounded or raise the dead, but it glows when viewed by Christian believers. Soon after the young Greek sculptor Basil (Paul Newman) drinks from it, he is spiritually converted to the new faith. Raised in the Roman city of Antioch, Basil is cheated out of his birthright when a treacherous relative (Herbert Rudley) sells him into slavery. Help comes from two sources. A group of Christians in Jerusalem asks Basil, now a talented silversmith, to fashion a chalice holder for the revered cup of Jesus. He soon attracts the eye of his sponsor's beautiful daughter Deborra (Pier Angeli). But long ago Basil helped the young slave girl Helena (Natalie Wood) to escape. Now grown to adulthood (as Virginia Mayo!), the lustful Helena plans to make Basil her midnight consort, despite her marriage to the wondrously skilled magician Simon Magus (Jack Palance).
Basil, Deborra, Simon and Helena eventually travel to Rome, where Basil seeks out Saint Peter (Lorne Greene, also in his first movie). The fanatic Mijamin (Joseph Wiseman of Dr. No), enlists Simon to recruit Jesus' followers for a revolt against the Romans. Simon will convince the ignorant masses to abandon Jesus with a flashy fake miracle: "flying" atop a tall tower above the multitudes. But Simon's megalomania gets out of control: he becomes so convinced of his superstar status that he begins to believe he can fly without aid of magic tricks.
Screenwriter Lesser Samuels had previously contributed dialogue to the odd Christian allegory Strange Cargo. The Silver Chalice is weighed down by awkward exposition, and Victor Saville's static direction does little more than instruct the actors to stand still while delivering speeches. The continuity is rough as well. At one point the love-struck Deborra seems to be describing a scene that had to be dropped: "I cannot believe I am home again. When you awakened me in Miriam's cottage I thought it was a dream." Virginia Mayo's sultry Helena is given the worst line of all: "Hail Lucius Niger, my curly-headed ram!"
Production designer Rolf Gerard's unusual sets seem more appropriate for a stage opera, as are some of the abstract costume designs. Huge interiors have featureless walls and oversized doors. Some full-scale settings look like cardboard cutouts. Painted backdrops resemble something out of Dr. Seuss or a flattened-perspective UPA cartoon; Basil's view of a field of crucified Christians is a complete abstraction. The overall effect is a strange artificiality -- many scenes look like raw conceptual storyboards.
Paul Newman is actually quite good considering the essential dullness of the character he plays. We can imagine the actor watching James Dean make movie history in the soundstage next door, and then tossing in his sleep convinced that his career could be over before it begins. The interesting supporting cast is in desperate need of good direction. Trying to underplay their roles are Alexander Scourby, Michael Pate and E.G. Marshall (wearing a heck of a nice beard). Fringe benefits include appearances by Robert Middleton, Ian Wolfe, Strother Martin, Norma Varden and Mel Welles. Playing a Roman armorer, Albert Dekker's voice is just too bombastic. Lorne Greene works too hard to telegraph his piety. He recites an awkward, inspirational curtain speech that predicts a perilous future world where men will indeed fly, and the teachings of Jesus will be needed more than ever. Could he possibly be talking about... us?
The gorgeous Virginia Mayo is made to wear some of the most unattractive eye makeup in film history. She unfortunately comes off as an overdone burlesque queen. The lovely Pier Angeli projects a strong sense of virtue that supports the Christian theme. Still, we can't help but question the film's morality. Basil and Deborra enter a marriage of convenience that will allow Deborra to gain direct control of her inheritance, and spend it all on Christian good works. Besides the dishonesty (and blasphemy!) involved, the focus on money is not very flattering. It may have reminded viewers of the big upswing in postwar evangelism and its emphasis on soliciting mass donations. In the Jerusalem crowd scenes, Jews and Christians alike behave like sheep, following whoever tells them what to believe. Messiah or charlatan, it doesn't seem to matter.
The heavy hitters in the cast are actors Joseph Wiseman and Jack Palance. Wiseman's terrorist leader spouts rhetoric meant to blend fascist arrogance with communist cynicism -- he comes off as an utter fanatic. As the crazy magician-turned false messiah, Palance overacts with gusto. Simon's spectacular miracle show must be seen to be believed. Palance straps on a pair of bat-wings over a foolish-looking leotard, a get-up that makes him look exactly like Wile E. Coyote trying out a new purchase from the Acme mail order company. Only Palance could get away with Simon's enthusiastic statement, when he comes to believe his own PR hokum: "I need no wires, no buckles! I need no wheel to be turned! I shall fly by the power of my own will, and all the world will wonder and worship!"
Paul Newman's newspaper ads had a point, as The Silver Chalice now plays as a strange artifact from the 1950s, in questionable taste. Viewers looking for a respectable Christian-oriented tale might be disappointed. But the film's mix of undigested cultural themes is irresistible. It's obvious that the filmmakers' intentions are dead serious, which makes the many funny lines and absurd situations all the more entertaining.
The Warner Archive Collection disc of The Silver Chalice is advertised as "Back In Print." It appears to be identical to the excellent standard DVD released in 2009, carrying the same menus, the same chapter stops, and the same 5.1 surround audio configuration. The WarnerColor appears not to have faded. The only noticeable jump in picture quality occurs when optical dissolves are cut in, a flaw sourced from the original film elements. Franz Waxman's Oscar-nominated music score sounds very rich and full; it has enjoyed a respectability denied the movie itself. Warners inadvertently threw away the stereophonic tracks for Chalice and many other '50s titles decades ago. Most were restored in the 1990s by accessing magnetic-striped prints deposited in the Library of Congress.
By Glenn Erickson
The Silver Chalice on DVD
The Silver Chalice - THE SILVER CHALICE - Paul Newman's 1954 Film Debut on DVD
One of the things that makes Biblical epics so deadly dull is the stylistic sameness: the same hodgepodge of American and British actors trying to out-dulcet one another, the same establishing shots of the thriving marketplaces and endless stretches of desert, the same camels, the same sandals. Seen afresh over fifty years after the fact, The Silver Chalice distinguishes itself from its cinematic brethren by dint of some authorial choices that push the narrative into the territory of film noir. Like many a film noir protagonist, Newman's Basil of Antioch is betrayed (by his uncle, after the death of adopted father) and imprisoned (sold into slavery). Escaping this and as such marked for death, Basil is offered the protection of a man of wealth (Walter Hampden, as Joseph of Arimathea), must choose between the love of a good woman (Pier Angeli) and a bad one (White Heat's Virginia Mayo, who has a chanteuse moment of driving a room full of Romans wild with desire), is forced into the employ of a super-villain (Roman emperor Nero, played by Jacques Aubuchon) and is mirrored in his godly practices by a psychotic with delusions of grandeur (Jack Palance, whose Simon Magus spends as much time grinning insanely as Richard Widmark did in Kiss of Death ). There's even an oily informer character (Mort Marshall, bearing the Runyonesque moniker "Benjie the Asker") and at one point Newman and Angeli even take it on the lam like the lovers-on-the-run in Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once (1937), Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night (19487) or Joseph H. Lewis' Gun Crazy (1950).
Even more intriguing are parallels that connect The Silver Chalice to Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly. Both focus on the search for a certain something (in Kiss Me Deadly "the great whatzit," here the Holy Grail); in both films, that certain something is contained in a leather box whose contents glows (in KMD because of atomic radiation, here because of Jesus). The Silver Chalice shares a number of its actors with the later film, too, including Albert Dekkar (the loquacious villain of Aldrich's lurid adaptation of the Mickey Spillane novel, playing a good guy here), Strother Martin (in a non-speaking role as the father of a lame child cured by Lorne Green's apostle Peter) and Paul Richards (cast as in Kiss Me Deadly as menacing muscle to Big Evil). Peter's climactic soliloquy seems tailored to set up the events of Kiss Me Deadly, with the apostle foreseeing a future of "great cities, and mighty bridges and towers higher than the tower of Babel... a world of evil and long bitter wars... when man holds lightning in his hands..." (Another coincidence is that director Victor Saville came to this project after completing The Long Wait, an adaptation of another novel by Mickey Spillane.) Beyond these likely unintentional similarities, The Silver Chalice merits reconsideration for Palance's outré performance, for a post-Miracle on 34th Street (1947)/pre-Rebel Without a Cause (1955) peek at Natalie Wood (playing the young Virginia Mayo) and for the production/art design of Rolf Gerard and Boris Leven (Invaders from Mars ), which seems bespoke more for a futuristic fantasy than a tale torn from the Good Book.
Warner Home Video has made this most unloved but perhaps unfairly denigrated sub-classic available through their "Paul Newman Film Series." Warners' region 1 DVD (which will play in regions 1-4) preserves The Silver Chalice's intended Cinemascope aspect ration of 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen playback. The image is clear, with lifelike flesh tones, and the WarnerColor is beautiful to behold, particularly for the photographic special effects of Hans F. Koenekamp. The soundtrack has been given a Dolby Digital 5.1 upgrade but this never becomes gimmicky and shouldn't upset purists. (The boosted audio track is a great way to appreciate Franz Waxman's Oscar® nominated score.) The disc is closed captioned in English and comes with optional French subtitles. There are no extras.
For more information about The Silver Chalice, visit Warner Video. To order The Silver Chalice, go to TCM Shopping.
by Richard Harland Smith
The Silver Chalice - THE SILVER CHALICE - Paul Newman's 1954 Film Debut on DVD
TCM Remembers Paul Newman (1925-2008) - Important Schedule Change for Paul Newman Tribute
Sunday, October 12
Sunday, October 12 Program for TCM
6:00 AM The Rack
8:00 AM Until They Sail
10:00 AM Torn Curtain
12:15 PM Exodus
3:45 PM Sweet Bird of Youth
6:00 PM Hud
8:00 PM Somebody Up There Likes Me
10:00 PM Cool Hand Luke
12:15 AM Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
2:15 AM Rachel, Rachel
4:00 AM The Outrage
TCM Remembers Paul Newman (1925-2008)
Paul Newman, with his electric blue eyes and gutsy willingness to play anti-heroes, established himself as one of the movies' great leading men before settling into his latter-day career of flinty character acting. Born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in 1925, Newman studied at the Yale Drama School and New York's Actors Studio before making his Broadway debut in Picnic.
Newman's breakthrough in films came in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), in which he played boxer Rocky Graziano. He quickly reinforced his reputation in such vehicles as The Rack (1956) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), for which he won the first of nine Oscar® nominations as an actor.
In 1958, while shooting The Long Hot Summer (1958) - which earned him the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival - in Louisiana, he became re-acquainted with Joanne Woodward, who was the film's female lead. The two soon fell in love, and after divorcing Jackie, Newman and Woodward were married in Las Vegas in 1958. The couple appeared in numerous films together and had three daughters, which they raised far from Hollywood in the affluent neighborhood of Westport, CT.
The 1960s was a fruitful decade for Newman, who starred in such hits as Exodus (1960), Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969); and scored Oscar® nominations for The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963) and Cool Hand Luke (1967).
Newman's political activism also came to the forefront during the sixties, through tireless campaigning for Eugene McCarthy's 1968 presidential campaign. His association with McCarthy led to his being named on future President Richard Nixon's infamous "Opponents List;" Newman, who ranked #19 out of 20, later commented that his inclusion was among the proudest achievements of his career.
Newman's superstar status - he was the top-ranking box office star in 1969 and 1970 - allowed him to experiment with film roles during the 1970s, which led to quirky choices like WUSA (1970), Sometimes a Great Notion (1971), Pocket Money (1972), and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) - all of which he also produced through First Artists, a company he established with fellow stars Sidney Poitier and Barbra Streisand.
After coming close to winning an Oscar® for Absence of Malice (1981), Newman finally won the award itself for The Color of Money (1986). He also received an honorary Oscar® in 1986 and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1994. A producer and director as well as an actor, Newman has directed his wife (and frequent costar) Joanne Woodward through some of her most effective screen performances [Rachel, Rachel (1968), The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)].
He remained active as an actor in his later years, playing the Stage Manager in Our Town on both stage and television, lending his voice to the animated features Cars (2006) and Mater and the Ghostlight (2006). Off-screen, Newman set the standard for celebrity-driven charities with his Newman's Own brand of foods, which brought $200 million to causes, and the Hole in the Wall Gang camp for seriously ill children.
TCM Remembers Paul Newman (1925-2008) - Important Schedule Change for Paul Newman Tribute Sunday, October 12
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
She was born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis, Missouri on November 30, 1920, and got her show business start at the age of six by enrolling in her aunt's School of Dramatic Expression. While still in her teens, she joined the nightclub circuit, and after paying her dues for a few years traveling across the country, she eventually caught the eye of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. He gave her a small role in her first film, starring future husband, Michael O'Shea, in Jack London (1943). She then received minor billing as a "Goldwyn Girl," in the Danny Kaye farce, Up In Arms (1944). Almost immediately, Goldwyn saw her natural movement, comfort and ease in front of the camera, and in just her fourth film, she landed a plumb lead opposite Bob Hope in The Princess and the Pirate (1944). She proved a hit with moviegoers, and her next two films would be with her most frequent leading man, Danny Kaye: Wonder Man (1945), and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). Both films were big hits, and the chemistry between Mayo and Kaye - the classy, reserved blonde beauty clashing with the hyperactive clown - was surprisingly successful.
Mayo did make a brief break from light comedy, and gave a good performance as Dana Andrews' unfaithful wife, Marie, in the popular post-war drama, The Best Years of Their Lives (1946); but despite the good reviews, she was back with Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song Is Born (1948).
It wasn't until the following year that Mayo got the chance to sink her teeth into a meaty role. That film, White Heat (1949), and her role, as Cody Jarrett's (James Cagney) sluttish, conniving wife, Verna, is memorable for the sheer ruthlessness of her performance. Remember, it was Verna who shot Cody¿s mother in the back, and yet when Cody confronts her after he escapes from prison to exact revenge for her death, Verna effectively places the blame on Big Ed (Steve Cochran):
Verna: I can't tell you Cody!
Cody: Tell me!
Verna: Ed...he shot her in the back!!!
Critics and fans purred over the newfound versatility, yet strangely, she never found a part as juicy as Verna again. Her next film, with Cagney, The West Point Story (1950), was a pleasant enough musical; but her role as Lady Wellesley in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), co-starring Gregory Peck, was merely decorative; that of a burlesque queen attempting to earn a university degree in the gormless comedy, She¿s Working Her Way Through College (1952); and worst of all, the Biblical bomb, The Silver Chalice (1954) which was, incidentally, Paul Newman's film debut, and is a film he still derides as the worst of his career.
Realizing that her future in movies was slowing down, she turned to the supper club circuit in the 60s with her husband, Michael O'Shea, touring the country in such productions as No, No Nanette, Barefoot in the Park, Hello Dolly, and Butterflies Are Free. Like most performers who had outdistanced their glory days with the film industry, Mayo turned to television for the next two decades, appearing in such shows as Night Gallery, Police Story, Murder She Wrote, and Remington Steele. She even earned a recurring role in the short-lived NBC soap opera, Santa Barbara (1984-85), playing an aging hoofer named "Peaches DeLight." Mayo was married to O'Shea from 1947 until his death in 1973. She is survived by their daughter, Mary Johnston; and three grandsons.
by Michael T. Toole
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
In such a world, the little cup will look very lonely.- Saint Peter
'Newman, Paul' took out ads in the Hollywood trade papers apologizing for his performance in this film.
Lesser Samuels' onscreen credit reads: "Written for the screen by Lesser Samuels Associate Producer." After the opening credits, voice-over narration describes the area between Jerusalem and Antioch, and sets the opening scene on Antioch's Street of the Silversmiths.
A real silver chalice, which was probably the inspiration for the original novel by Thomas Costain, was found around 1908 in an area near Antioch. The exterior of the ornate chalice is adorned with faces identified as those of Christ and His disciples. The plain silver inner cup was at first believed to date from the 1st century A.D. and purported to be the Holy Grail. However, after further study, the "Antioch Chalice," which is now housed in the Cloisters Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, is believed to have been a standing lamp used in churches during the first half of the sixth century.
Although, according to February 1953 Los Angeles Times and November 1953 Variety news items, Victor Saville planned to produce The Silver Chalice as an independent venture, a July 1954 New York Herald Tribune article noted that the distribution company, Warner Bros., was putting up $3,000,000 for it. The article noted that producer-director Saville, whose Parklane Productions had produced several projects based on Mickey Spillane novels, was now planning, under the new corporate name Saville Productions, a religiously themed film.
March and April 1954 Hollywood Reporter news items reported that Saville made several trips to New York to woo stage actors to the project, many of whom made their film debuts in small parts. The most important Hollywood debut marked by the film was that of Paul Newman, who was also being considered by Warner Bros. for a role in East of Eden, a part that was given to his fellow Actors Studio alumnus, James Dean. Character actor Robert Middleton (1911-1977) also made his motion picture debut in the film. Pier Angeli was on loan from M-G-M for the film. Although the appearance of the following cast members has not been confirmed, Hollywood Reporter news items add them to the cast: Tom Hernandez, Jean Heremans, and as an Amazon, Bette Lynn. An August 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item added Anna Cheselka, who was a former prima ballerina of the Ballet Russe, Peggy Brooks, Virginia Lee, Patty Nestor, Wilda Bieber and Marie Ardell as dancers.
According to a February 1953 Los Angeles Times news item, Saville had agreed with Costain to shoot on location in Rome, Jerusalem and Antioch, and a July 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item added that negotiations with British and Italian filmmakers were in progress. Of the three locations originally announced for shooting, only Rome has been confirmed by a June 1954 news item. The desert sequences were shot near Palm Springs, CA, according to several June 1953 news items, which also reported that two studio workers were injured in an automobile collision on the Hollywood Freeway en route to the location. According to Warner Bros. production notes, the set designer, Rolf Gerard of the New York Metropolitan Opera, used color symbolically in his modernistic set: white marble-like sets were used to depict Antioch; gold for Jerusalem; and red and black for Rome. Participants in the crowd scenes were dressed in a light neutral color, so that the principal actors would stand out. According to the New York Herald Tribune article, five silversmiths assisted in the making of the chalice.
In November 1954, Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter news items announced that Warner Bros. Pictures, in conjunction with Art Linkletter and the National Tuberculosis Association, would award the hosting of the film's premiere to the town which sold the most Christmas seals in proportion to its population, during the first three days of its local drive. That honor, according to a December 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item and a 1954 Warner Bros. news short, went to Saranac Lake, NY.
According to the Hollywood Reporter review, Costain was pleased with Samuels' close adherence to his novel, but the reviewer felt that The Silver Chalice compared unfavorably with two contemporary films, Quo Vadis and The Robe ( entries). Referring to the scene in which "Basil" sees a vision of Jesus, enabling him to complete His likeness on the chalice, the reviewer joked that "it almost seems irreverent to suggest that, at a time of great human travail, Jesus would reveal Himself merely to have His picture taken." Noting the "modernistic feel" of the settings, the Variety review reported that they were "at variance with the Biblical period of the story." However, the Fortnight review found the sets "remarkable," reporting that "frequently scenes are played before smooth, rectangular surfaces which can spotlight the actors much better than realistic settings."
About the film debut of Newman, who would later become one of the most important actors in the twentieth century, the Motion Picture Herald review stated that his "screen usefulness is for the junior generation to decide." The New Yorker review described Newman's performance as "a conductor announcing local stops." Reiterating a thought held by many critics at that time, the Saturday Review (of Literature) described Newman as "a poor man's Marlon Brando." Newman, who, in a January 1976 Los Angeles Examiner news item claimed that The Silver Chalice was the "worst picture of the fifties and to have survived is no mean feat," May have been the most displeased with his performance in the film. When The Silver Chalice was first televised in Los Angeles in the 1960s, he ran a Hollywood trade paper ad that proclaimed, "Paul Newman apologizes every night this week-Channel 9."
Although nominated for Academy Awards, William Skall's color cinematography and Franz Waxman's scoring of a dramatic or comedy picture lost to Milton Krasner for Three Coins in the Fountain and Dimitri Tiomkin for The High and the Mighty, respectively.
Released in United States February 1955
Released in United States Winter December 17, 1954
Screen debut for Paul Newman.
Rleased in Los Angeles December 17, 1954.
Released in United States February 1955
Released in United States Winter December 17, 1954