Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1953
USA | 120 minutes

Mankiewicz’s first post-Fox film was this stark yet dynamic version of Shakespeare’s tragedy. He and producer John Houseman decided to mix American actors like Louis Calhern (as Caesar) and Edmond O’Brien (Casca) with English actors like James Mason (Brutus), Deborah Kerr (Portia), and, in his American film debut, John Gielgud as Cassius. Their most controversial notion originated with Houseman: Marlon Brando as Marc Antony, which was greeted with dismay by the American press. According to Mankiewicz, when Brando played him a tape he’d made of Antony’s speech to the senate, he told the actor that he sounded “exactly like June Allyson,” but Brando’s devotion and coaching from both Mankiewicz and Gielgud resulted in a performance that had the press and the public eating their words. (Spencer Tracy told O’Brien that Brando did the best work in the film). According to Brando’s biographer Stefan Kanfer, the actor drew his emotional subtext from an immediate source: his anger over Elia Kazan’s friendly HUAC testimony.

Series: Joseph L. Mankiewicz: The Essential Iconoclast

Venue: New York Film Festival

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