Friday, November 4, 2011

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar; drama, USA, 1953; D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, S: James Mason, John Gielgud, Marlon Brando, Louis Calhern, Edmond O'Brien, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr

Rome, 44 BC. After another triumph, Julius Caesar returns to the city and reaches the peak of his power when the Roman Senate proclaims him as the lifelong dictator. Nonetheless, numerous senators see this as the end of freedom in their state. In order to save democracy, Cassius and Casca decide to kill him and even persuade Caesar's adoptive son Brutus to help them. Despite a bad feeling of his wife Calpurnia, Caesar goes to the Senate, where he is killed. Marc Antony seizes power and persecutes the conspirators. Left alone and isolated, Cassius and Brutus commit suicide.

This is an interesting example of how not every movie from the 50s is automatically a classic: despite an ambitious setting, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's adaptation of the play "Julius Caesar" is today a stiff, schematic and dated achievement, one of those dry monumental movies where the basic themes are strong (struggle between being loyal to a friend who "lost his way" or being loyal to your principles and integrity) yet are diluted and therefore difficult for the modern audience to identify with, whereas Shakespeare's artificial and overlong dialogues and monologues also tend to seem more forced than poetic. At times they indeed reach a high level of sophistication ("Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once!" or "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome he was fortunate, I rejoice at it, as he was valiant, I honor him, but as he was ambitious, I slew him!") and this movie adaptation is indeed intelligent and demanding, yet as a whole "Caesar" simply does not manage to engage the viewers to the fullest. The maximum was achieved from great actors, James Mason, John Gielgud and especially Marlon Brando as Marc Antony, who was so electrifying during the big speech sequence that the Academy Awards actually nominated him for an Oscar as best actor in a leading role - when he was actually a supporting character! - and won his third BAFTA in his third consecutive year, after "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Viva Zapata!"


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