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The Silver Chalice (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Silver Chalice
Film poster
Directed byVictor Saville
Screenplay byLesser Samuels
Based onThe Silver Chalice
1952 novel
by Thomas B. Costain
Produced byVictor Saville
CinematographyWilliam V. Skall
Edited byGeorge White
Music byFranz Waxman
Victor Saville Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 20, 1954 (1954-12-20)
Running time
135 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.5 million (US)[1]
Box office$3.2 million (US)[2]

The Silver Chalice is a 1954 American historical epic drama film directed and produced by Victor Saville, based on Thomas B. Costain's 1952 novel of the same name. It was one of Saville's last films and marked the feature film debut of Paul Newman; despite being nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his performance, Newman later called it "the worst motion picture produced during the 1950s."

The film featured unusual semi-abstract settings and decor, created by the stage designer Rolfe Gerard in a striking departure from the normal practice of the day for Hollywood biblical epics. A notable musical score by Franz Waxman was nominated for the Best Original Score at the 27th Academy Awards.

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A Greek artisan from Antioch is commissioned to cast the cup of Christ in silver and sculpt around its rim the faces of the disciples and Jesus himself. He travels to Jerusalem and eventually to Rome to complete the task. Meanwhile, a nefarious interloper is trying to convince the crowds that he is the new Messiah by using nothing more than cheap parlor tricks.



The film had its world premiere in the small town of Saranac Lake, New York, which won a competition selling Christmas Seals. Saville, Mayo, Angeli and Palance attended and participated in a parade around the time of the town's annual winter carnival. The premiere was hosted by television personality Art Linkletter.


A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote that the filmmakers "have come up with a spectacle-filled adventure easily fitted to the lush hues of WarnerColor and the king-sized screen of Cinemascope. But in providing a modicum of excitement and generous portions of extravaganza they have turned out a cumbersome and sometimes creaking vehicle that takes too long to reach its goal."[3]

Variety wrote, "Like the Costain book, the picture is overdrawn and sometimes tedious, but producer-director Victor Saville still manages to instill interest in what's going on, and even hits a feeling of excitement occasionally."[4] John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "it is colorful at times, rather tedious in other portions".[5] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote, "Lesser Samuels' screen play meanders self-consciously and Victor Saville's direction is just as overblown. I found nothing remarkable in the performances of the leads, Paul Newman (not as good as he's been on TV), Pier Angeli, Virginia Mayo (more synthetically blondined than ever), Jack Palance (an overtheatric villain), or even Walter Hampden (the ancient Joseph)."[6] Harrison's Reports thought the film "deserves a high rating from the production point of view", but was "only moderately interesting" as entertainment.[7] John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote that the film "has to do with the pursuit of the Grail by the most dismal assortment of characters I've encountered in a decade".[8] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Any true religious atmosphere in this vulgar and incongruous fancy-dress parade is out of the question...Some may discover uproarious moments, many will be repelled by the tastelessness of the spectacle as a whole."[9]

Writing in the first edition of his Film Guide in 1977, Leslie Halliwell described the film as "[p]o-faced biblical hokum...with howlingly bad casting and direction...[a] sea of boredom", assigning it 0 stars out of 4.[10]

The elaborate musical score by Franz Waxman has been widely recognized. Elmer Bernstein recorded part of the suite in the 1970s.[11]


Martin Scorsese wrote about the film as a guilty pleasure in 1978:

The Silver Chalice is one of the reasons I hired Boris Leven to design New York, New York. Giant and The Silver Chalice: any man who could design those two films...that's it, I had to have him. The Silver Chalice, which is a bad picture, has no authenticity. It's purely theatrical, and this is mainly due to the sets. They're clean and clear; it's almost like another life, another world. We don't know what ancient Rome was like, so why not take the attitude Fellini had with Satyricon: make it science fiction in reverse? The Silver Chalice came close to that, fifteen years earlier.[12]

Paul Newman was apparently not proud of his performance. When the film was broadcast on television in 1966, he took out an advertisement in a Hollywood trade paper apologizing for his performance and requesting people not to watch the film. This backfired and the broadcast received unusually high ratings.[13] The film is sometimes referred to as Paul Newman and the Holy Grail.[14] Newman called the film "the worst motion picture produced during the 1950s", and once screened it for guests at his home, handing out pots, wooden spoons and whistles, encouraging the audience to offer noisy critiques.

Home media

The film was released on DVD in 2009.


  1. ^ "The Silver Chalice". TV Guide. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  2. ^ "The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955". Variety Weekly. January 25, 1956.
  3. ^ Weiler, A. H. (December 27, 1954). "' Silver Chalice' at the Paramount Among Features That Have Premieres". The New York Times, pg. 22.
  4. ^ "Film Reviews: The Silver Chalice". Variety, pg. 6.
  5. ^ Scott, John L. (December 27, 1954). "'Silver Chalice' Lavish, Spectacular Cinema". Los Angeles Times. Part III, pg. 8.
  6. ^ Coe, Richard L. (December 28, 1954). "'Phffft' Is Spoof Of Polite Divorce". The Washington Post, pg. 16.
  7. ^ "'The Silver Chalice' with Virginia Mayo, Pier Angeli and Jack Palance". Harrison's Reports. December 25, 1954, pg. 206.
  8. ^ McCarten, John (January 15, 1955). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. pg. 70.
  9. ^ "The Silver Chalice". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 22 (257): 86. June 1955.
  10. ^ Halliwell, Leslie. Halliwell's Film Guide to 8,000 English Language Films, 1st edition, pg. 829.
  11. ^ "The Silver Chalice (1954)". Retrieved July 19, 2023.
  12. ^ Martin Scorsese's Guilty Pleasures Scorsese, Martin. Film Comment; New York Vol. 14, Iss. 5, (Sep/Oct 1978): 63-66.
  13. ^ Video on YouTube
  14. ^ Susan Wloszczyna, "Paul Newman: A rare breed" (USA Today, byline 9/30/2008, accessed 2/23/2009.)

External links

This page was last edited on 20 May 2024, at 21:30
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