Sunday, March 24, 2013

#951. Julius Caesar (1970)

Directed By: Stuart Burge

Starring: Charlton Heston, Jason Robards, John Gielgud

Tag line: "No grander Caesar... No greater cast!"

Trivia: This marked the second time Charlton Heston would play Mark Antony. He did so previously in a 1950 low-budget version of Julius Caesar and would do so again in 1972's Antony and Cleopatra, which he also directed

Director Stuart Burge brings William Shakespeare’s celebrated 16th century play to the big screen in the star-studded 1970 film, Julius Caesar. By defeating the sons of his enemy, Pompey, on the battlefield, Caesar (John Gielgud) has become the most powerful man in Rome. And though he is loved by many, there are some who fear Caesar’s power, and plot to assassinate him. Among the conspirators looking to remove Caesar are Cassius (Richard Johnson) and Casca (Robert Vaughn), both of whom convince Marcus Brutus (Jason Robards), a beloved friend of Caesar’s, to join their cause. On the Ides of March, Caesar is stabbed to death in the Senate, and while his assassins believe their actions were justified, Caesar’s closest ally, Marc Antony (Charlton Heston), rallies the people against the conspirators, plunging Rome into yet another civil war. 

To successfully translate Shakespeare for a modern audience, you need to have the right actors in place, and, fortunately, Julius Caesar features some good ones. John Gielgud is convincingly arrogant as the power-mad title character, and Diana Rigg brings enough life to the small part of Brutus’ wife, Portia, to make her presence known. Charlton Heston is also solid as Marc Antony, conjuring up all the anger and fury he can muster in the stirring “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech, and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, Robert Vaughn is very effective as the shifty Casca, the first conspirator to drive a dagger into Caesar. My favorite performance in Julius Caesar, though, is delivered by Richard Johnson. A former member of the Royal Shakespeare company, Johnson gives it his all as Cassius, the “less honorable” of the two main assassins, and is wonderful in the part. Unfortunately, not all of the casting choices pan out. Jason Robards was undoubtedly a fine actor, excelling in such movies as Once Upon a Time in the West, Melvin & Howard, and Magnolia, yet, in Julius Caesar, he’s as flat as flat can be, bringing no oomph whatsoever to the role of Brutus. It’s a fairly terrible performance. 

While the 1953 version of Julius Caesar, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Marlon Brando as Antony, Louis Calhern as Caesar and James Mason as Brutus, is still the definitive cinematic take on Shakespeare’s famous play, this Julius Caesar has enough going for it to at least warrant some attention.

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