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The Silver Chalice

The Silver Chalice(1955)

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NOTES

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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.