Julius Caesar (1953)

October 27th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Marlon Brando, James Mason, John Gielgud. Louis Calhern, Edmond O’Brian, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr | US drama 121’

Joe Mankiewicz had contributed enough black ink to the ledgers of Hollywood to be entrusted with this ambitious version of one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays.

Metro were prepared to make it in Technicolor but Mankiewicz predictably declined, especially as it would probably have created problems with the censor depicting (SPOILER COMING:) Caesar’s bloodied corpse.

Miklos Rozsa’s score owes much more his earlier film noirs than his subsequent work on historical epics. While winning Academy Awards for the art direction the forum at Rome has simply been recycled from ‘Quo Vadis’ and Philippi dashed off in a day at Bronson Canyons, the very plainness of the settings enabling Mankiewicz to subordinate the spectacle to the dialogue; although the presence of John Gielgud (then young enough to be described as ‘young Cassius’), James Mason, Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr amply attest to the fact that it’s a prestige production.

Among the smaller parts the appearance early on of George Macready bodes well, while John Hoyt – who was in the original Mercury production – certainly looks the part as Decius Brutus and rejoined Mankiewicz ten years later on the set of ‘Cleopatra’ on which Mankiewicz attempted to avoid the discrepancy of accents that jars so much in this version; although the gamble in casting Marlon Brando as Mark Anthony paid off handsomely. Edmond O’Brien may seem rather rather out of place as Casca but as ever is always worth watching. @RichardChatten 

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