Paul Newman’s 1st Movie: “The Silver Chalice” (1954)

A young Greek artist, Basil (Paul Newman), is commissioned to cast the cup of Jesus in silver, and sculpt around its rim, the faces of the disciples and Jesus. He travels to Jerusalem, then eventually, to Rome to complete the task. Meanwhile, a magician, Simon (Jack Palance), is trying to convince Caesar and the Romans that he is the new Messiah. James Dean was offered the role of Basil, but he and his agent thought the script was poor. Newman, who was a finalist for the role of Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955) that eventually was played by Dean, and made him a star, took the role, which Newman later regretted. While shooting East of Eden, Dean went over to visit Newman on the set of this film, where he met the love of his short life, a young Italian actress- Pier Angeli (Deborra, a Jewish merchant’s daughter/convert to Christianity).

I had a cocktail dress. Nero had a cocktail gown. -Newman (joking re: costumes in this movie)

Let’s begin with the good points; it got 2 Oscar noms- one for William Skall’s color cinematography and the other for Franz Waxman’s musical score. A teen Natalie Wood makes a brief appearance. That’s it- sorry to say! The story is boring, it drags b/c of its long running time, and the dialogue is bad (which caused some viewers to laugh). There are some sad-looking (minimalist) sets which were obviously built on a soundstage. No one can call a movie “epic” w/ sets like that! Newman is looking gorgeous (as usual); his legs aren’t “too skinny for a toga,” as he later commented. You can tell he had no direction; he doesn’t seem to know where to turn or how to say a line! As a young actor, Newman said that he was “cerebral, rather than intuitive.” I’ve never heard of this director, Victor Saville, so maybe he left Hollywood? Mayo seems to be sleepwalking, while Palance is SO campy at times (that some viewers admitted they were entertained). Of course there are worse movies than this, BUT you don’t need to watch!


[1] The Silver Chalice is best remembered for a Variety ad that Paul Newman took out after he got famous and apologized for, not only his performance in this film, but also the film itself. Of course, doing something like this is only going to get people interested in the film, so I’m sure many people have watched this because of Newman’s plea for you not to.

[2] They [actors] are hindered by very sketchily written characters and as dreary and stilted a script as you can get… Victor Saville’s direction never comes to life and the story feels overlong, stodgy and over-stretched with scenes that are either stagey, superfluous or unintentionally funny…

[3] Mayo looks as though she just left the chorus line of The Goldwyn Girls and had the artists paint her eyebrows in what someone must have assumed would resemble women of antiquity. She saunters around in her veiled costumes as though she is about to break out into a burlesque queen’s rendition of a bump and grind song number.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Hitchcock’s 50th Film: “Torn Curtain” (1966) starring Paul Newman & Julie Andrews

Prof. Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman- the hottest scientist ever) is heading via boat to Copenhagen to attend a conference w/ his assistant/fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Once they arrive, Michael informs her that he’ll be staying for a while and she should go home. Sarah follows him and realizes Michael is actually going to East Germany (behind the Iron Curtain). She is shocked when Michael announces that he’s defecting; the U.S. government cancelled his project after 6 yrs. In truth, Michael is there to get info (which a professional spy couldn’t understand) from another nuclear physicist!

I did not have to act in ‘Torn Curtain’. I merely went along for the ride. I don’t feel that the part demanded much of me, other than to look glamorous, which Mr. Hitchcock can always arrange better than anyone. I did have reservations about this film, but I wasn’t agonized by it. The kick of it was working for Hitchcock. That’s what I did it for, and that’s what I got out of it. -Julie Andrews

The idea behind this film came from the defections of British diplomats (Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean) to the Soviet Union in 1951. Sir Alfred Hitchcock was very intrigued re: Maclean’s life in the Soviet Union, incl. about Melinda Marling (his wife) who followed her husband a year later w/ their three children. In the end, Hitch was so unhappy w/ this movie that he didn’t make a trailer w/ his appearance in it (as was his habit). Bernard Herrmann (composer) wrote an original score, but Universal execs convinced the director on something more upbeat. Hitchcock and Herrmann had a big fight and never worked together again! Steven Spielberg admitted on Inside the Actors Studio (1994) that as a young man he snuck onto the soundstage; he was there for 45 mins. before an assistant producer asked him to leave.

I think Hitch and I could have really hit it off, but the script kept getting in the way. -Paul Newman

The working relationship between Hitch and Newman was problematic; the actor came from a different generation than Cary Grant and James Stewart. He questioned the director re: the script and his characterization, which Hitch later said he found “unacceptable and disrespectful.” As a Method actor, Newman consulted Hitch about his character’s motivations; Hitch replied that his “motivation is your salary.” Also, no romantic chemistry developed between Newman and Andrews (another disappointment to the director). Though the screenplay drags along, the colorful Eastern European supporting actors do fine w/ what they are given. Many critics/viewers recalled the (memorable) killing scene where Gromek fights Armstrong and a housekeeper in the farmhouse.

[1] Pity. I love Hitchcock. There is a detachment here never seen before in a Hitch flick. As if the master was tired or uninterested.

[2] The main thing about Torn Curtain is the photography. It’s full of pretty pictures- one of the most beautifully filmed of all Hitchcock’s films, with lots bold swaths of primary colors and attractive and constantly changing locations…

[3] This was Alfred Hitchcock’s last star vehicle. At the time this was made Julie Andrews was fresh from Mary Poppins and had all kinds of roles offered her. …she and Newman really have no chemistry at all.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Rack (1956) starring Paul Newman

Capt. Edward Hall, Jr. (Paul Newman)- the son of an Army colonel (Walter Pidgeon)- returns to the US (San Francisco) after 2 yrs in a Korean War prison camp. For 6 mos, he was isolated from the other prisoners and psychologically tortured. His younger brother (Paul) died in combat during this time. Ed is quickly charged w/ treason, assigned a JAG lawyer- Lt. Col Frank Wasnick (prolific character actor Edmond O’Brien)- and put on trial. Paul’s widow Aggie (Anne Francis) is empathetic and a willing ear for Ed, though his father is embarrassed (even refusing to come to court). He pleads “not guilty,” but had he reached a personal breaking point during his capture? 

This is a must-see if you like intelligent, sensitive, serious, and well-acted l films! The teleplay was written by Rod Serling (creator of the original Twilight Zone TV series). Paul Newman (then 30 y.o.) is able to keep the viewer’s attention in the quiet and intense moments; he slowly reveals the layers of his character. Newman creates terrific chemistry w/ his co-stars, most notably Pidgeon and Francis. The theme of the distant/unemotional father and son yearning for acceptance and love isn’t rare for Hollywood, though it’s handled very well here. When Ed leaves home and goes to stay in a hotel, a concerned Aggie goes to check on him. In a more obvious story, they may have become a romantic pair; here they become good friends.

The prosecution of a (previously decorated) war hero isn’t an easy thing to handle; it falls upon Maj. Sam Moulton (Wendell Corey), who isn’t too happy w/ the assignment. Lt. Col. Wasnick sees that Ed is full of self-pity, so has to boost his spirits and prep him to tell his story on the stand. O’Brien gets some of the best lines (during the courtroom scenes). Even the soldier who testifies against Ed, Capt. John Miller (character actor Lee Marvin), isn’t a one-note  character. It turns out that he also suffered tortured, though his was physical. Aggie confides her worries in a neighbor played by a very young (and pretty) Cloris Leachman; she later became an iconic character actor in comedy.

[1] This is fascinating drama… The ending is ambiguous and may well lead to a heated debate…
 
[2] …the theme is relevant today as it was when it was made.
 

[3] Paul Newman’s second film… [his acting] demonstrates that, even then, he was the truly finest screen performer around. But the very nature of his style has always placed him behind –or to the side of– more “bravura” actors of the time. Unlike Brando and Clift and Dean- he is much less self-centered; in other words he is a sharing actor. This puts the SCENE in focus more than the performance…

[4] I thought the acting was sincere and I was draw to this character that seemed to feel he lost his way by being human.
 
-Excerpts from IMBD reviews

From the Terrace (1960) starring Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward

terrace_boating

Alcoholism, dysfunctional families, romance, infidelity (w/ its gendered double-standards), and America’s obsession w/ money and power are  the main themes in this (ahead of it’s time) melodrama.  I watched it last night (on Netflix); of course, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (who were married for 2 years at that time) were the draw.  Wow, if you want to see some HOT onscreen chemistry, check out their scenes together (first half of the film)!  As for Newman, he’s the definition of Hollywood’s total package (looks, presence, talent, the ability to be both humorous and serious, etc.) 

terrace_driving

In 1946, Aflred Eaton (Newman) returns to suburban Philly after serving in the Navy (WWII) to the loving arms of… his household staff.  His parents checked out long ago.  His father (Leon James) puts all his heart into his steel mill and mourning someone who will never return.  His mother (Myrna Loy) has turned to alcohol and another man.  A private nurse lives with her- a great shock to Alfred.  As his best pal, Alex Porter (a young and dapper George Grizzard), says he “needs to get out of that house” and their expectations.  Like many young folks, Alfred heads to NYC.

In a few months time, Alfred falls in love with Mary St. John (platinum-haired Woodward), a blue blood from Delaware.  She is engaged to another man and her parents would not approve of Alfred’s “qualifications,” Alex quickly explains.  “There are all types of qualifications,” Alfred slyly retorts.  After winning Mary’s hand, he starts working with Alex on designing/selling small planes on Long Island, but grows tired of being left out of the decision-making.  (The business was financed by the Porter family.)  An accident of chance propels Alfred into the society, then business, of one of the wealthiest financiers on the East Coast.  Alfred throws himself into his work, repeating his father’s mistake, and neglects Mary (not content to sit at home alone in their fancy Manhattan apartment). 

Some Quick Film Reviews

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

Well, you really CAN’T go wrong w/ such a stellar cast!  (Dev Patel, just 21 y.o., said how BIG of an honor it was to work w/ all these legends, in a recent NPR interview.)   My fave characters were portrayed by Judy Dench, Bill Nighy (he surprised me w/ his skill), & Tom Wilkinson.  Some viewers commented that Patel’s acting was very one-note (& I mostly agree w/ that).  Perhaps he got bogged down in the Indian accent (he’s a British desi, after all); perhaps he just needs to learn more.  The complete change of heart from Maggie Smith’s characters didn’t ring QUITE true IMO.  There are some GREAT life lessons in this film, BUT it’s NOT schmaltzy or stereotypical. 

Empire Falls (2005)

Fans of Paul Newman will be surprised by his (antihero) role in this HBO miniseries!  There are some  fine performances, esp. from Ed Harris, Aidan Quinn, Robin Wright Penn, & a young Danielle Panabaker.  I thought it started out quite strong, BUT there is something disjointed about it.  It’s set around two VERY different families in a working-class town of Maine. 

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Three reasons to see this film (in order): 1) Russell Crowe 2) Kevin Spacey 3) Guy Pearce.  I’m pretty sure this film was a star-making turn for Crowe.  Also, this is one of the BEST edited films I recall seeing.  I was surprised that Kim Basinger was so capable- she didn’t annoy me in this film!   I think you need to see it twice to appreciate it- I don’t think I paid attention the first time.

The Horseman on the Roof (1995)

This historical French film is GORGEOUS (& not just b/c of the two leads)!  There’s a LOT of natural beauty- greenery, mountains, snow, etc.  Olivier Martinez, who you may recall from Unfaithful,  portrays a true “romantic” (a individual of high ideals).  Juliette Binoche is perfect (as usual), though there is NOT much dialogue.   Plus, you have to give props to a woman who’s not afraid to act w/ a man prettier than her- LOL!   La Binoche never disappoints.