Julius Caesar (1953)

Julius Caesar (1953)

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Shortly after Roman general Julius Caesar (Louis Calhern) returns home from battle, several conspirators — including Cassius (John Gielgud), Brutus (James Mason), and Casca (Edmond O’Brien) — plot to assassinate him in order to prevent him from becoming dictator; however, they don’t realize how vengeful Marc Antony (Marlon Brando) will become upon the death of his beloved mentor.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Assassination
  • Deborah Kerr Films
  • Edmond O’Brien Films
  • George Macready Films
  • Greer Garson Films
  • Historical Drama
  • James Mason Films
  • John Gielgud Films
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz Films
  • Louis Calhern Films
  • Marlon Brando Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Revenge
  • Shakespeare

Marlon Brando impressed critics (and earned his third Academy Award nomination in a row) by transforming from mumbling Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) to assertive statesman Marc Antony in this faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s historic play, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz on sets left over from Quo Vadis (1951). The first half of the storyline is the most powerful, as we see loyal Mason torn over his decision to participate in the assassination of his friend and leader:

… and Caesar ignoring pleas from his wife Capurnia (Greer Garson) to stay home, given premonitions she’s had:

The death scene itself, with one of the most famous lines in all of history (“Et tu, Brute?”), is well filmed:

… as is Antony’s famous response and speech to the masses: “Friends, Romans, countrymen — lend me your ears!”

Gorgeous Deborah Kerr barely registers as Brutus’s wife Portia — though that’s more a function of the storyline than her character, who essentially disappears:

The remainder of the narrative focuses on vengeance for Caesar’s death, though it’s surprisingly action-free (other than the Battle of Philippi). Viewers will likely be most curious throughout to listen for famous lines of dialogue and turns of phrase, including the following:

Caesar: “Cowards die many times before their death. The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Calpurnia: “Caesar, I have never stood on ceremonies.”

Antony: “Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”

Antony: “This was the most unkindest cut of all.”

Watch for Edmond O’Brien as Casca, who gets to speak the line, “It was Greek to me.”

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • James Mason as Brutus
  • Marlon Brando as Antony
  • Fine cinematography and sets

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look as a finely mounted Shakespearean production.


One thought on “Julius Caesar (1953)

  1. A once-must.

    This isn’t among my favorite Shakespeare plays so I was surprised, on a rewatch, that it’s as compelling as it is – and I am in agreement that the first half is stronger.

    It’s expected that the English actors would do nicely but impressive that the Americans in the cast hold up their end equally. All members deliver their lines with welcome clarity (which also compensates for the lack of action).

    I esp. like Garson and Kerr – who do a lot with the little given them. Mason, as usual, is captivating – but, in general, all of the men are noteworthy.

    FFs should be familiar with filmed versions of The Bard’s work, esp. when they are performed with adequate conviction.

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