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Julius Caesar (1953) was one of numerous MGM films on which William Tuttle worked during his tenure as head of the studio's makeup department from 1950 to 1969. For this powerful Joseph L. Mankiewicz adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy, Tuttle chose a subtle, minimalist makeup for the faces of the film's outstanding male cast, headed by Marlon Brando as Marc Antony, Louis Calhern as Caesar, James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius and Edmond O'Brien as Casca. At one point Brando was fitted with a latex nose, slightly larger than his own, to give him a more heroically Roman look. After one test, however, the idea was rejected. Tuttle gave the full 1950s glamour treatment to MGM's two "great ladies," Greer Garson as Calpurnia, wife of Caesar; and Deborah Kerr as Portia, wife of Brutus.
Producer John Houseman decided at the outset that the U.S.-made movie should incorporate American actors along with English ones in its cast, although MGM executives had pushed for an all-British ensemble. "I argued that in that case the film should be made in Europe by a British company -- not by MGM in Culver City," Houseman wrote in his autobiography.
Among the British actors, Gielgud was the biggest casting coup since Julius Caesar would mark his Hollywood film debut and offer him a chance to reprise a role that had just won him kudos at Stratford-on-Avon. Among the Americans, Brando -- still strongly associated with the brutish, mumbling Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) -- was a controversial choice. There were many complaints in the press about the "inappropriate" casting, with one columnist sarcastically proposing that MGM advertise the movie with photos of Brando in a torn toga. Hedda Hopper went so far as to say she completely disbelieved the casting because Brando's "voice just wouldn't blend with the rest of the cast."
Brando had refused a screen test but, to win the role, did agree to make audio tapes demonstrating his ability to handle Shakespearean dialogue. Director Mankiewicz was unimpressed by Brando's first taped efforts, telling the actor that he sounded "just like June Allyson"! The director then worked with his star on a recording of Antony's speech as he enters the Senate after Caesar's assassination. This time the results were good enough to convince everyone involved, including Mankiewicz, that Brando was up for the challenge.
Showing a generosity that Houseman called "rare among actors," the classically trained Gielgud spent hours on the set coaching Brando in his delivery and emotional approach, helping his Method-trained costar achieve a polished, heartfelt performance that won him laudatory notices and an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. For Brando, it was the third of four consecutive nominations -- the final one of which, for On the Waterfront (1954), finally earned him his first Oscar. Although its sets were salvaged from Quo Vadis? (1951) and stripped of their ornamentation, Julius Caesar won an Oscar for the Art Direction/Set Decoration by a team headed by Edward C. Carfagno and Cedric Gibbons. Nominations also came in the categories of Best Picture, Black-and-White Cinematography and Music Score.
Producer: John Houseman
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (uncredited), from the play by William Shakespeare
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Edward C. Carfagno, Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Miklos Rozsa
Editing: John Dunning Costume Design: Herschel McCoy Principal Cast: Marlon Brando (Marc Antony), James Mason (Brutus), John Gielgud (Cassius), Louis Calhern (Julius Caesar), Edmond O'Brien (Casca), Greer Garson (Calpurnia), Deborah Kerr (Portia), George Macready (Marullus), Michael Pate (Flavius), Richard Hale (Soothsayer), Alan Napier (Cicero).
BW-122m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Roger Fristoe