“A good miracle is only a good trick — unless it is made part of a new religion.”
A Greek artist (Paul Newman) sold into slavery as a young boy by his adopted uncle (Herbert Rudley) has an ongoing affair with the wife (Virginia Mayo) of a magician (Jack Palance), but grows fond of a young Christian (Pier Angeli) whose grandfather has commissioned him to craft a silver chalice to contain the Holy Grail. Will Newman eventually “see the light” of Christianity — and will Palance effectively convince Emperor Nero (Jacques Aubuchon) that he can fly?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Ancient Greece and Rome
- Biblical Stories
- Jack Palance Films
- Natalie Wood Films
- Paul Newman Films
- Pier Angeli Films
- Virginia Mayo Films
This notoriously lambasted Biblical epic was considered such a disgrace by emergent star Paul Newman that he purportedly took out ads in Hollywood trade papers proclaiming it the “worst film made in the 1950s”, and enjoining audiences not to watch it. It’s not really all that bad — though it’s easy to see why Newman might want to disown it, especially given that the show really belongs to Jack Palance in a memorably villainous role as a magician who gradually goes mad.
Mayo has received flak for being decked out with outrageously gaudy eye make-up:
and the artistically minimalist sets are criticized as… not realistic enough.
But once one accepts the stylized world on display here, it’s possible to get caught up in the melodrama, which involves Newman eventually meeting the Apostle Peter (Lorne Greene) to add his visage to the chalice.
Angeli is lovely as an innocent young Christian who falls for Newman:
and the scenes set in Nero’s Rome are appropriately surreal — particularly the one in which Nero and his wife are offered platter after platter of gold-plated delicacies with outrageous combinations of edibles.
When Nero (Aubuchon) reminds his wife, “We must not let our people go home in a grumbly mood… We must give them something to watch.”, one can’t help thinking how little has changed in 2000 years vis-a-vis the public’s desire for outrageous spectacles.
Note: Watch for blonde (!) Natalie Wood playing Mayo’s younger self.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Jack Palance as Simon the Magician
- Pier Angeli as Helena
- Colorful cinematography and sets
No, though it’s worth a look if you’re curious. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book (which makes sense).