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Julius Caesar Movie Review

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1953 – Joseph L. Mankiewicz –

Shakespeare's tragedy of the assassination of Julius Caesar and its aftermath is famous for its refusal to take sides among the conspirators. This objectivity in the play may be one of the saving graces for this film since the movie combines so many different acting styles. The variety among the players and the overall quality of their work ultimately serves the production well by suggesting the many-sided nature of men's ambitions and the complexities that necessarily result from such a drastic, irrevocable act.

Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz attempts to capture a sense of spectacle in the brief early scene when Caesar (Louis Calhern) enters Rome and later in the extended pair of speeches by Brutus (James Mason) and Antony (Marlon Brando) following the killing. These are played before a large, boisterous crowd. The contrast between the reactions of the crowd and the speeches works wonderfully to show the fickleness of the doltish masses. First, Brutus' self-justifying, idealistic words gain rousing support; minutes later, Antony—his voice cracking with emotion—delivers the masterpiece of irony and manipulation that turns the people against the men they had just extolled. The final image after the funeral oration places the now-rioting masses in the background as Antony turns to re-enter the senate chamber in the foreground. Once his back has turned on the citizens, the flicker of a smile plays on his lips. Visually, emotionally, and dramatically, this scene is the highlight of the film.

All of Brando's best moments come immediately after the assassination, from the time he arrives to view the body and coldly greets the conspirators. Alone after they go to address the populace, Brando brings out Antony's anguish and anger (“let slip the dogs of war”), and his entry carrying the body of Caesar makes for a stunning moment. The earlier scenes of conspiratorial plotting and the later battle scenes are staged by Mankiewicz to emphasize strategy and humanity rather than spectacle, but the quality of the acting maintains interest throughout. John Gielgud is excellent as the dissembling Cassius; Mason captures the thoughtful sensitivity and idealism of Brutus, a part often said to be Shakespeare's early version of Hamlet.

Cast: Louis Calhern (Julius Caesar), Marlon Brando (Marc Antony), James Mason (Brutus), Edmond O'Brien (Casca), John Gielgud (Cassius), George Macready (Marulius), Richard Hale (soothsayer), Alan Napier (Cicero), Greer Garson (Calpurnia), Deborah Kerr (Portia), Ian Wolfe (Ligarius), Douglass Dumbrille (Lepidus), Michael Ansara (Pindarus), William Cottrell (Cinna), Ned Glass (cobbler) Screenwriter: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (from Shakespeare) Cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg Composer: Miklos Rozsa Producer: John Houseman for MGM Running Time: 120 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards Academy Awards 1953: Art Direction/Set Decoration (B&W); Nominations: Actor (Marlon Brando), Black and White Cinematography (Joseph Ruttenberg), Picture, Original Dramatic/Comedy Score (Miklos Rozsa); British Academy Awards 1953: Actor (Marlon Brando), Actor (John Gielgud); National Board of Review Awards 1953: 10 Best Films of the Year; Actor (James Mason) Budget: $2M.

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