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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
As mentioned previously, Warner Brother's "Paul Newman Film Series" appears to be the polar
opposite of the "best of" type of DVD sets. These are the 'worst of' the late super star.

Newman's first movie was an embarassment to him. It's a sword and sandal picture titled,
"The Silver Chalice". "The Robe" was the first CinemaScope release (but not the first film
shot in the format which was "How to Marry a Millionaire") and did smash boxoffice business.
Not because it was a great film (it's okay) nor because the lenses looked good (CinemaScope
was very distorted and anamorphic technology was not upgraded until Panavision entered the field). However, as a marketable process that helped compete with the usurping TV medium, CinemaScope certainly did the trick. It was the easiest system to install in a theater. A new lens and wider screen. Much cheaper and less cumbersome that interlocked 3-D and Cinerama which required multible projectors to play in synch or Todd AO which required a new machine to show 70mm.

The other studios jumped on the Fox band wagon and licensed the lenses from them (without
being aware that the patent for the anamorphic process had expired). Warner Brothers
figured that CinemaScope combined with sword and sandal/religious content would bring in
the same grosses as "The Robe".

So they made "The Silver Chalice" in scope and Warnercolor. Curiously, it was basically a 'no
name' cast for such an expensive production. They hired many notable character actors like
E.G. Marshall, Jack Palance and Joseph Wiseman ("Dr. No") and the young Newman for his
screen debut. But no big names like Paramount had in "The Ten Commandments".

The film has the reputation of being a real turkey if not 'guilty pleasure'. I had seen most of
it over the years on TV in a dreadful off-color, pan and scanned copy and thought it was just
as bad as people said. Newman was painfully miscast and didn't look good in a toga.

However, after seeing it in much better circumstances decades later on DVD with excellent
color, the full widescreen image and stereo I have to re-evaluate my original condemnation.

The movie isn't good but it isn't as awful as it's reputation suggests. I would classify it as
a 'curio' worth a single screening.

The conditions you see a movie in are critical to your appreciation for it. Since the use of
the wide screen was integral to fifties movies, the loss of it undermines their basic appeal.
Pan and scan versions really hurt the pictures. Restored to it's original ratio, the compositions and set design in this DVD are quite interesting and unusual. Characters
are spread out over the entire width of the screen and the sets are huge yet barren as are
the exteriors. This film has very few extras for a religious epic which is strange to say the
least. The people are dwarfed by their surroundings which aren't really realistic and somewhat impressionistic. Among the strangest designs of ancient architecture
in cinema history.

Newman isn't good in the role but he's not a complete disaster. He's not as miscast as Victor Mature was in "The Robe". In fact if you weren't familiar with Newman's later movies you probably wouldn't find him that objectionable. It's only when you project his Cool Hand Luke, Hud and Butch Cassidy personas into the actor that he seems so awkward in this role.

The structure of the film is similar to the later "Ben Hur". Newman is a sculpturer adopted by a wealthy nobleman only to be disinherited when he dies and sold into slavery. He's escapes only to become entangled with an early Christian cult trying to preserve the cup
Jesus drank from in the last supper. The episodic story works in this context and holds your

Jack Palance is actually quite good in the movie. He plays a magician who wants to utilize
his tricks to become another messiah for the masses. His statements that Christians were
fellow 'tricksters' using claims of miracles to expand their numbers and control their followers
surprised me. Certainly a different take on the subject and rather controversial.

So if you want to be a Paul Newman "completist" and follow his career from beginning to end,
you might be surprised at the movie. I've seen worst sword and sandal films and this one
is a bit better than anticipated. The Warnercolor is surprisingly good compared to many
releases that used that shoddy lab. I guess the studio put some effort into the processing
of this production compared to others. The image is mint, the color vibrant and even the opticals are not as grainy as usual. The stereo sound is okay and the music majestic. And those quirky sets are certainly different. The movie could've used more action since there are only a few sword fights but overall it's a passable entertainment as this genre goes.
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