The Silver Chalice (1955)

131, 142 or 144 mins | Drama | 5 February 1955

Director:

Victor Saville

Writer:

Lesser Samuels

Cinematographer:

William V. Skall

Editor:

George White

Production Designer:

Rolf Gerard

Production Company:

Victor Saville Productions
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HISTORY

Lesser Samuels’ onscreen credit reads: “Written for the screen by Lesser Samuels Associate Producer.” After the opening credits, voice-over narration describes the area between Jerusalem and Antioch, and sets the opening scene on Antioch’s Street of the Silversmiths.
       A real silver chalice, which was probably the inspiration for the original novel by Thomas Costain, was found around 1908 in an area near Antioch. The exterior of the ornate chalice is adorned with faces identified as those of Christ and His disciples. The plain silver inner cup was at first believed to date from the 1st century A.D. and purported to be the Holy Grail. However, after further study, the “Antioch Chalice,” which is now housed in the Cloisters Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, is believed to have been a standing lamp used in churches during the first half of the sixth century.
       Although, according to Feb 1953 LAT and Nov 1953 Var news items, Victor Saville planned to produce The Silver Chalice as an independent venture, a Jul 1954 NYHT article noted that the distribution company, Warner Bros., was putting up $3,000,000 for it. The article noted that producer-director Saville, whose Parklane Productions had produced several projects based on Mickey Spillane novels, was now planning, under the new corporate name Saville Productions, a religiously themed film.
       Mar and Apr 1954 HR news items reported that Saville made several trips to New York to woo stage actors to the project, many of whom made their film debuts in small parts. The most important Hollywood debut marked by the film was that of ... More Less

Lesser Samuels’ onscreen credit reads: “Written for the screen by Lesser Samuels Associate Producer.” After the opening credits, voice-over narration describes the area between Jerusalem and Antioch, and sets the opening scene on Antioch’s Street of the Silversmiths.
       A real silver chalice, which was probably the inspiration for the original novel by Thomas Costain, was found around 1908 in an area near Antioch. The exterior of the ornate chalice is adorned with faces identified as those of Christ and His disciples. The plain silver inner cup was at first believed to date from the 1st century A.D. and purported to be the Holy Grail. However, after further study, the “Antioch Chalice,” which is now housed in the Cloisters Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, is believed to have been a standing lamp used in churches during the first half of the sixth century.
       Although, according to Feb 1953 LAT and Nov 1953 Var news items, Victor Saville planned to produce The Silver Chalice as an independent venture, a Jul 1954 NYHT article noted that the distribution company, Warner Bros., was putting up $3,000,000 for it. The article noted that producer-director Saville, whose Parklane Productions had produced several projects based on Mickey Spillane novels, was now planning, under the new corporate name Saville Productions, a religiously themed film.
       Mar and Apr 1954 HR news items reported that Saville made several trips to New York to woo stage actors to the project, many of whom made their film debuts in small parts. The most important Hollywood debut marked by the film was that of Paul Newman (1925--2008) , who was also being considered by Warner Bros. for a role in East of Eden , a part that was given to his fellow Actors Studio alumnus, James Dean. Character actor Robert Middleton (1911--1977) also made his motion picture debut in the film. Pier Angeli was on loan from M-G-M for the film. Although the appearance of the following cast members has not been confirmed, HR news items add them to the cast: Tom Hernandez, Jean Heremans, and as an Amazon, Bette Lynn. An Aug 1954 HR news item added Anna Cheselka, who was a former prima ballerina of the Ballet Russe, Peggy Brooks, Virginia Lee, Patty Nestor, Wilda Bieber and Marie Ardell as dancers.
       According to a Feb 1953 LAT news item, Saville had agreed with Costain to shoot on location in Rome, Jerusalem and Antioch, and a Jul 1953 HR news item added that negotiations with British and Italian filmmakers were in progress. Of the three locations originally announced for shooting, only Rome has been confirmed by a Jun 1954 news item. The desert sequences were shot near Palm Springs, CA, according to several Jun 1953 news items, which also reported that two studio workers were injured in an automobile collision on the Hollywood Freeway en route to the location. According to Warner Bros. production notes, the set designer, Rolf Gerard of the New York Metropolitan Opera, used color symbolically in his modernistic set: white marble-like sets were used to depict Antioch; gold for Jerusalem; and red and black for Rome. Participants in the crowd scenes were dressed in a light neutral color, so that the principal actors would stand out. According to the NYHT article, five silversmiths assisted in the making of the chalice.
       In Nov 1954, DV and HR news items announced that Warner Bros. Pictures, in conjunction with Art Linkletter and the National Tuberculosis Association, would award the hosting of the film’s premiere to the town which sold the most Christmas seals in proportion to its population, during the first three days of its local drive. That honor, according to a Dec 1954 HR news item and a 1954 Warner Bros. news short, went to Saranac Lake, NY.
       According to the HR review, Costain was pleased with Samuels' close adherence to his novel, but the reviewer felt that The Silver Chalice compared unfavorably with two contemporary films, Quo Vadis and The Robe (see above entries). Referring to the scene in which “Basil” sees a vision of Jesus, enabling him to complete His likeness on the chalice, the reviewer joked that “it almost seems irreverent to suggest that, at a time of great human travail, Jesus would reveal Himself merely to have His picture taken.“ Noting the “modernistic feel” of the settings, the Var review reported that they were “at variance with the Biblical period of the story.” However, the Fortnight review found the sets “remarkable,” reporting that “frequently scenes are played before smooth, rectangular surfaces which can spotlight the actors much better than realistic settings.”
       About the film debut of Newman, who would later become one of the most important actors in the twentieth century, the MPH review stated that his “screen usefulness is for the junior generation to decide.” The New Yorker review described Newman’s performance as “a conductor announcing local stops.” Reiterating a thought held by many critics at that time, the SatRev described Newman as “a poor man’s Marlon Brando.” Newman, who, in a Jan 1976 LAEx news item claimed that The Silver Chalice was the “worst picture of the fifties and to have survived is no mean feat,” may have been the most displeased with his performance in the film. When The Silver Chalice was first televised in Los Angeles in the 1960s, he ran a Hollywood trade paper ad that proclaimed, “Paul Newman apologizes every night this week--Channel 9.”
       Although nominated for Academy Awards, William Skall’s color cinematography and Franz Waxman’s scoring of a dramatic or comedy picture lost to Milton Krasner for Three Coins in the Fountain and Dimitri Tiomkin for The High and the Mighty , respectively. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
25 Dec 1954.
---
Daily Variety
9 Nov 1954.
---
Daily Variety
17 Dec 1954
p. 3.
Film Daily
20 Dec 1954
p. 6.
Fortnight
2 Feb 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jul 1953.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Mar 1954
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Apr 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 May 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
12 May 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jun 1954
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jun 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jun 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 1954
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jun 1954
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jun 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1954
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Aug 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Aug 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 1954
p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner
15 Jan 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Feb 1953
pt. III, p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
25 Dec 54
pp. 257-58.
New York Herald Tribune
11 Jul 1954.
---
New York Times
27 Dec 54
p. 22.
New Yorker
15 Jan 1955.
---
Newsweek
17 Jan 1955.
---
Saturday Review
15 Jan 1955.
---
Variety
18 Nov 1953.
---
Variety
22 Dec 54
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
and introducing
Terence deMarney
Lawrence Dobkin
David Bond
Tony George
Joe Mell
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PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Victor Saville Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Assoc prod
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Prod des
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Ward executed by
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Dance dir
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Scr supv
Silversmith
Wax sculptor of chalice
Chalice embosser
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain (Garden City, N.Y., 1952).
DETAILS
Release Date:
5 February 1955
Premiere Information:
Saranac Lake, NY opening: 17 December 1954
New York opening: 25 December 1954
Production Date:
early June--late August 1954
Copyright Claimant:
Victor Saville Productions
Copyright Date:
12 February 1955
Copyright Number:
LP5884
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
WarnerColor
Lenses/Prints
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
131, 142 or 144
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17085
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Antioch, in 20 A.D., the wealthy and childless Greek Ignatius adopts a talented young child and renames him “Basil.” In his new home, Basil befriends Helena, an ambitious young slave, and under Ignatius’ encouragement, grows to be an accomplished sculptor. When Ignatius dies, his brother Linus bribes the officials to deprive Basil of his inheritance and then sell him as a slave. Helena, who now performs with her lover, the successful magician Simon, warns Basil that Linus is planning to kill him. Assisted by Luke, a physician and disciple of Christ, Basil escapes to Jerusalem to the house of Aaron, a Jew whose father, Joseph of Arimathea, removed Christ from the cross and buried Him in the family sepulcher. Joseph shows Basil the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper, and asks Basil to design a silver chalice for it, featuring carvings of the heads of Jesus and His disciples. Basil begins the chalice and creates likenesses of the disciples, but is unable to fashion an image of Jesus. Meanwhile, Mijamin, the leader of a group of Sicarii assassins, asks Simon to help him raise an army by performing "miraculous" tricks to lure the Christians away from their religion and into his army. Simon, who longs to be more than a common magician, convinces Mijamin to help him start a new religion. To demoralize the Christians, they decide to steal the Grail and publicly crush it in the presence of the Christian disciple Peter, against whom Simon holds a long-standing grudge. Basil, upon learning that Helena is in Jerusalem, attends Simon’s next performance. When Simon compares himself to Jesus, Joseph’s granddaughter Deborra, who ... +


In Antioch, in 20 A.D., the wealthy and childless Greek Ignatius adopts a talented young child and renames him “Basil.” In his new home, Basil befriends Helena, an ambitious young slave, and under Ignatius’ encouragement, grows to be an accomplished sculptor. When Ignatius dies, his brother Linus bribes the officials to deprive Basil of his inheritance and then sell him as a slave. Helena, who now performs with her lover, the successful magician Simon, warns Basil that Linus is planning to kill him. Assisted by Luke, a physician and disciple of Christ, Basil escapes to Jerusalem to the house of Aaron, a Jew whose father, Joseph of Arimathea, removed Christ from the cross and buried Him in the family sepulcher. Joseph shows Basil the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper, and asks Basil to design a silver chalice for it, featuring carvings of the heads of Jesus and His disciples. Basil begins the chalice and creates likenesses of the disciples, but is unable to fashion an image of Jesus. Meanwhile, Mijamin, the leader of a group of Sicarii assassins, asks Simon to help him raise an army by performing "miraculous" tricks to lure the Christians away from their religion and into his army. Simon, who longs to be more than a common magician, convinces Mijamin to help him start a new religion. To demoralize the Christians, they decide to steal the Grail and publicly crush it in the presence of the Christian disciple Peter, against whom Simon holds a long-standing grudge. Basil, upon learning that Helena is in Jerusalem, attends Simon’s next performance. When Simon compares himself to Jesus, Joseph’s granddaughter Deborra, who has accompanied Basil, shouts accusations of blasphemy, inciting the crowd against her. Basil helps her escape the crowd’s wrath. Later, Basil presents the nearly finished chalice to Joseph, who then asks him to go to Rome to meet Peter. Sensing Basil’s reluctance to leave, Joseph mistakes the artist’s platonic devotion to Deborra for love. The law dictates that Deborra cannot inherit Joseph's fortune unless she is married, and so Joseph, hoping that Basil and Deborra will wed, tells her that Basil loves her. Aware that the ambitious Helena will never leave Simon, Basil tells Deborra that although Helena is his true love, he will marry her so that she can receive her inheritance. They marry in a private ceremony before the dying Joseph. After Basil and Deborra leave for Antioch to collect Joseph’s gold, Simon and Mijamin raid Aaron’s house for the Grail, but when they find it is gone, they follow the newlyweds. At their camp, as Basil and Deborra sleep in separate tents, Mijamin steals the cup, but Basil follows him, and fights his men to regain it. After leaving Deborra and the Grail in Antioch, Basil proceeds to Rome to meet Peter. There he meets Kester, a witness to his adoption, who promises to help him reclaim his own inheritance. Having been persuaded by Helena to go to Rome, Simon quickly gains Caesar Nero’s favor, but the attention feeds his delusions of grandeur. Promising that he will fly like a bird to Nero’s glory, Simon petitions the ruler to build a 300-foot tower from which he will take flight. Nero orders Christian slaves to commence building, but many rebel and are crucified. Upon learning of Basil’s marriage, the jealous Helena convinces Nero to commission Basil to create a bust, thus resulting in the artist’s enforced stay at court. As Basil works on the statue, he witnesses the executions of Christians from his window. He is so angered that he fervently begins to pray and the face of Christ appears to him, causing him to abandon Nero's commission. In the morning, a messenger secretly delivers the completed chalice to Peter and tells Basil that Deborra is in Rome with the Grail. After the tower is completed, the citizens of Rome assemble to see Simon’s miracle. Simon, now believing that he is God, tells Helena that he needs no special cables or other chicanery to fly. Ignoring her pleas, Simon jumps from the tower and falls to his death. Feeling cheated, the crowd becomes unruly and Nero, fearing they will turn on him, contrives another entertainment. Ordering Helena to climb the tower and fly, Nero promises that, if successful, her life will be spared. Knowing that her life is over, Helena stoically climbs the tower and then falls to the feet of the crowd. Angered by the failed miracles, angry mobs sack Simon’s house, then move on to pillage his neighbors. In the confusion, Basil finds Deborra and professes his love for her. When the Grail and chalice are stolen from Peter’s house, Basil chases the robber through the streets, but the man is killed by one of the mob before Basil can catch up with him. When Basil reaches the dead man, only a broken piece of the chalice is left. Later, as Basil and Deborra prepare to sail to Antioch, Peter blesses them and prophesies that the Grail will reappear when mankind needs it.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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