DVD Review: The Silver Chalice (1954)

This Warner Archive release is a Manufacture-On-Demand (MOD) DVD. It is made to be played in “play only” DVD devices, and may not play in some DVD recorders or PC drives. This disc, however, played fine in the Toshiba DVD recorder used for this review. This title is available directly from WBShop.com by clicking here.

THE SET-UP
A freed slave (Paul Newman) is chosen to cast the Holy Grail in silver, but his efforts are thwarted by enemies out to claim the grail for themselves. In addition, a magician (Jack Palance) uses his magic to convince Rome he is a Christ-like Messiah. Also stars Pier Angeli, Virginia Mayo, and Lorne Greene.
Directed by Victor Saville

THE DELIVERY
The 1954 film The Silver Chalice may not be a classic along the lines of Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments, but it is notable as the film debut of one Paul Newman. He is perhaps the best reason to watch this odd, overstylized Biblical epic, but he isn’t the only one.

Unlike the DeMille epics, The Silver Chalice doesn’t attempt any sort of realism. Instead, it attempts to go with a theater-type of setting, with sparse sets sporting a colorful, art deco feel. It doesn’t quite work; some sets even feaure some obviously-stenciled bricks on the walls. It’s very distracting.

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The heavy-handed acting we get doesn’t help. Lines are delivered as if actors are trying to be heard by the last row in a community theater. Jack Palance, who allegedly craps bigger than Billy Crystal, is the only cast member who looks like he’s having any fun. His hammy performance as Simon the Magician is a real highlight, and when he goes absolutely bat-guano crazy in the film’s third act, you cannot look away. He chews up the scenery as a wanna-be messiah, and while it is all overdone, it is entertaining. 

Paul Newman doesn’t have a lot to work with here, but even so, he is a commanding presence. The camera obviously loves him, even if the script does not, giving him one wooden line after another. Virginia Mayo, one of classic Hollywood’s great actresses, doesn’t quite get her chance to shine with the clunky script. I enjoyed her work in The Best Years of Our Lives and a few Danny Kaye movies, but her part here, as a woman torn between the Newman and Palance characters, as poorly written. She does sport some wicked Vulcan eyebrows, though.

Keep an eye out for brief appearances by a blonde Natalie Wood as a slave girl, and Lorne Greene (of Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica fame) as Peter the Disciple. It helps to pass the time in a film that, clocking in at over two hours, is far too long.

The plot involves Newman’s character of Basil having to craft the faces of Jesus and His disciples in silver on the Holy Grail, while others learn of the Grail’s existence and try to claim it for themselves. It’s an interesting  story, and provides the film’s emotional core, but it gets absolutely buried by the Jack Palance subplot. There’s also a love story, but it never really gets fleshed out.

The Silver Chalice is no classic, and it disappoints more often than not, but for fans of Paul Newman, it’s a curiosity that must be seen at least once. It feels like a stage play more than a big-screen Biblical epic, but it’s still something worth checking out. While you watch, please enjoy the big helping of charismatic villainy courtesy of Jack Palance.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
The video transfer is pretty solid, although it seemed as if the colors weren’t nearly as bold as one might expect for a movie filmed in “WarnerColor,” an Eastman Kodak process that emphasized primary colors. It’s basically another name for Technicolor. The print used is fairly clean, with good detail. 

The audio is an outstanding Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which properly highlights the excellent, Oscar-nominated score by Franz Waxman. It also features subtitles in English and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Although the case refers to “bonus material/trailer,” neither are included.

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUT IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 6

Video: 7

Audio: 9

Extras: 1

Overall grade: 5.75

The Silver Chalice doesn’t quite rise to its potential, and in the realm of Biblical epics, it falls short of its peers. For fans of Paul Newman, it’s worth a rent, but that’s about it. The music is awfully good, though.

DVD SPECS
Release date: May 29, 2013

Running time: 135 minutes

Rating: Not rated

Aspect ratio: 2.55:1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English, French

Special features: None

Label: Warner Archive

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